Aubrey and Shirley Morris plan to enjoy the sweet smell of success -after all it is the scent of lavender.
Minto council held a public meeting on Sept. 2 to consider an application to amend its zoning bylaw. The subject land is located at 6275 Highway 89 (between Harriston and Mount Forest).
The purpose of the amendment is to rezone the property from agricultural to a category that would permit the distillation of essential oils (Lavender, Bergamot, Hyssop, Lemon Balm) from plants grown on- site.
A number of related uses are proposed to be accessory to the operation, including: demonstration gardens; sale of essential oils, lavender products and related cosmetic products; and a café.
Consideration will also be given to revising the natural environment zoning on the property.
Planner Mark Van Patter noted the property is roughly 49.5 acres near the bend on Highway 89.
Van Patter said “one of the key factors in the application is that it is for non-prime agricultural land. That offers more flexibility of usage.”
He said provincial policy statements do encourage tourism, recreation, and economic development uses.
Van Patter added that the Wellington County official plan regarding secondary agricultural properties does allow small scale commercial uses, providing certain criteria are met.
He said those criteria are met in this instance. Part of the property is already zoned as natural environment, so he said some revisions will be needed.
Under planning considerations, he said it is a small scale cottage industry “and in my opinion it meets both the provincial policy statement and the county official plan.”
He added that he has since discovered the distillation process does not involve chemicals, and is done with steam.
The Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority also responded to the application and is asking a proposed barn be relocated on the property.
Van Patter said the main issue for the Ministry of Transportation is signs.
“They have their own rules and regulations regarding signage and the entrance.”
He said the zone change will put the property into an agricultural exception zone, which will still mean it remains an agricultural property – and include the additional uses.
The owners will need to meet the regulations as set out by the MTO.
Speaking on behalf of the proposal, Nick Morris, said “Basically, we’re just trying to open the farm up to the public to see what we are growing and what we’re producing.”
He said it would also provide people an opportunity to buy items made on the farm and get some education of the distillation process to get the oils.
“It’s agri-tourism … looking down the road, we may be employing five or six people.”
Deputy-mayor Judy Dirksen asked if the amended zoning would alter the use of the property in the future.
Van Patter explained all the same agricultural uses are allowed; the amendment just allows uses “in addition to that.”
Councillor David Turton asked if this is something the owners are doing now, or something for the future.
Morris said “We’re distilling oil on the farm already, and we’ve been growing the plants since 2004. We’re at the point where we have a stock of oil. We’re just taking it to the next phase for products to be sold. We’ve been doing it a while.”
Turton said “Personally, I’d like to come visit. I’m quite intrigued by the whole thought. I admire you for coming up with this.”
When asked more about the process, Morris explained the oils are extracted through steam distillation.
Low pressure steam is passed through the plant material, which lifts the oil out of the plants. That is condensed through a heat exchanger and the oil is separated from the water.
Councillor Rick Hembly commented on the potential of hiring five or six people.
“I think that’s great,” he said.
Morris added “It could be even more than that.”
There are not many farms of this kind in Canada, and Morris cited an operation in Quebec that employs about 20 people.
“If Turton likes the stuff, you may have to have a number of people to keep the supply up,” quipped Hembly.
The operation would likely be seasonal.
Morris foresaw a shop being open until roughly Christmas and then shutting down until spring.
Turton asked if it would be a good summer student occupation.
Morris believed that is so.
Shirley Morris added that when there is a lovely aroma when the extraction is done.