Nfld. & Labrador

'No better than a peasant': Labrador farmer frustrated by provincial regulations

For the past 30 years, Frank Pye has been fighting to get the province's farming regulations changed.

Frank Pye, who is facing serious health concerns, worries about his farm being lost

Frank Pye has spent 30 years fighting to change the province's farming regulations to grant land to farmers in Labrador. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Frank Pye is frustrated after 30 years of fighting to reform farming regulations in Labrador.

He and his wife Joyce Pye founded Grand River Farm in 1987 as a retirement project, and have worked tirelessly to provide fresh, local produce in a region that relies heavily on food being brought in.

Joyce and I are no better than a peasant on somebody's manor right back in the Middle Ages.- Frank Pye

He says his calls for change have so far gone unanswered, and now it's more urgent than ever.

Pye is seriously ill with cancer. He worries his wife won't be able to keep the farm going on her own as a widow, and without the 80 acres of leased land being worked, he said it will deteriorate so quickly that no one will want it after it's grown over with weeds and alders.

Pye said the government declares the land "non-compliant" three years after it hasn't been cultivated, and so can take it back, giving the lease to another farmer.

"Joyce and I are no better than a peasant on somebody's manor right back in the Middle Ages. The lords of the day, and now it's the government of the day, own the land, not the farmer, " he said in a CBC Labrador Morning interview.

It's been a total partnership, with Frank and Joyce Pye growing everything from pumpkins to peas. (CBC)

Pye believes the dilemma can be solved by granting land to farmers in Labrador.

"I have no doubt whatsoever, if my 30 years work was respected, and my widow was given a grant, this farm would be valuable. Somebody would want it."

Access to granted land 

Pye argues that farmers on the island portion of the province have access to land that was granted to them prior to 1977 when the province changed its agricultural policy.

That's granted land they build their farm infrastructure such as barns on; land that's been passed down through the generations.

Frank Pye says he feels no better than a peasant cultivating land on somebody's manor back in the Middle Ages, and he wants the province to grant land to farmers in Labrador. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Pye said granted land is much sought after by farmers in Atlantic Canada who are fighting for a piece of the agricultural market.

In 1977, the province passed a law to protect agricultural land on the island from being sold off for development. Going forward, that meant agricultural lands would only be available through a lease agreement with the province.

This is where Pye believes Labrador was left out since there were never any granted lands that were viable for farming in Labrador. 

Frank and Joyce Pye have worked tirelessly to grow fresh, local produce in a region that relies heavily on food being shipped in. (Grand River Farm/Facebook)

He said anyone wanting to start an operation was forced into using leased land.

"Over that 30 years, I have had arguments, discussions, debates, conversations, trying to argue the point that Labrador was an exceptional situation because nobody can start a farm that's not going to be taken away from them, or their family, at the end of the day."

Labrador exception 

Pye is asking the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources to recognize Labrador was in an exceptional position, given that there were no granted lands to run a farm on.

He believes the regulation needs to change based on this Labrador exception.

"We are continuing to work with the Pyes to see a quick resolution that meets their needs within the agriculture leasing policy, which has been effective in keeping existing agriculture leases available for agriculture use," the department wrote in an email.

We want to see this land continue to be used. It's productive. They've poured a lot into it.- MHA Perry Trimper

The email explained that a farmer is able to assign or transfer a lease to another party with a suitable farm business plan.

Upper Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper said he's prepared to work on behalf of farmers to see if there's a way forward on the granted land versus leased land issue, although he admits it's not going to happen overnight.

Meantime, he says there are groups that are taking at look at the Pyes' farm.

"We want to see this land continue to be used. It's productive. They've poured a lot into it, we know it's a great investment on their part, and we'll work with them to find a successful tenant."

Still hoping regulations will change

But Pye believes few people are taking up the province's calls for proposals to farm in central Labrador, describing agriculture as "practically dead" in the area.

He asks who's seriously going to go into farming when they know what the regulation is, and that they will lose everything they put into it at the end of the day.

Frank Pye who is facing a serious health condition worries that his wife Joyce won't be able to take care of the farm. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Pye feels he is running out of time to see the 1977 regulation changed.

"Now, I come to the end of my days, it hasn't been changed. After what I've put in for agriculture in this part of the province, I'd like to see that happen before I'm buried."


John Gaudi

CBC reporter

John Gaudi reports from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for CBC's Labrador Morning.