Nova Scotia

N.S. farmers say zoning laws for agricultural lands could drive them out of business

Some farmers and land-owners in East Hants say proposed agricultural reserve zoning laws are too restrictive, and will have the opposite effect by not protecting farms at all.

Municipality of East Hants proposing new land-use laws in certain areas

Elizabeth Crowe, left, and her mother, Anne Crowe, walk through their dairy farm in Burntcoat, N.S., on Nov. 29, 2022. (Haley Ryan/CBC)

Elizabeth Crowe and her mother, Anne Crowe, walk across their family dairy farm in Burntcoat, N.S., to a large red barn in the cold November sunshine.

At 37, the younger Crowe hopes to one day buy the family farm and stay in the industry.

But the Municipality of East Hants has proposed new zoning laws that would designate much of the Crowes' land, and many others along the Minas Basin, as agricultural reserve. 

That would protect the lands for years to come by restricting its use for farming only, and allow only those engaged in the agricultural activities to build any homes or new structures.

Crowe says she's worried about her ability to someday buy her family's 250-year-old farm, Broad Cove Farm, under proposed zoning laws. (CBC)

However, this designation would dramatically cut the value of the family's land — Elizabeth Crowe estimates dropping it to $1,500 per 0.4 hectares from $15,000 — and lower her borrowing power at the bank.

"I may not be able to buy my farm. So then what happens to this? This is 250 years of my family's history," she said through tears.

"I've given up so much in my life for this ... it's something I love."

Crowe said she was counting on being able to sell small parcels of unused land in years to come for cottages to keep the farm going as the prices of fuel and fertilizer continue to climb. 

But under the new rules, Crowe said that wouldn't bring in nearly enough to help buy new equipment or expand.

The Crowes at work in their cow barn. (Haley Ryan/CBC)

"It's not like farming is a huge ... profitable venture anymore. It really isn't. We're making the bare minimum, trying to keep things going," she said.

Her mother said while the zoning might be useful in other areas of the municipality where there's a high density of farms and there's more development pressure, it doesn't make sense to apply in an area where there's only a handful of working farms.

She also noted that much of their area was also marked as an erosion zone, and questioned why land that will change drastically over time would be marked as reserve.

While Anne Crowe agrees it's important to maintain farms for future generations, she said the zoning downloads all the responsibility onto farmers with no incentives from any level of government.

"Why is it my responsibility now to protect it for everybody if you don't respect farmers and don't invest in farming?" she said.

Crowe says the proposed East Hants zoning designation of agricultural reserve along the Minas Basin is unfair and provides no incentives for landowners to keep farming. (Haley Ryan/CBC)

Although she said she's worried about keeping their farm in the family, she's also outraged on behalf of her senior neighbours in the area. Many have had their land designated agricultural reserve even if it hasn't been actively farmed in decades, she said, cutting into the money many hoped to live on in their final years after selling the land.

Others have long planned to give their land to their children to build on, but that wouldn't be possible under the new laws unless they started farming again.

"That makes no sense. I mean, you're taking that legacy right away from them. That's not fair," she said.

Malcolm White is in a similar situation: his family farm hasn't been active since the early 2000s, but he hoped to see his three sons eventually come home to build on the property.

Malcolm White says he was disappointed to see his family land suggested for agricultural reserve when it hasn't been actively farmed since 2001 and he was hoping his sons could eventually settle down there. (CBC)

If the zoning does go through, White said he will start growing Christmas trees on his field to escape the restrictive agricultural reserve and allow more flexibility under a different designation — a move the Crowes said they've heard others have already started.

"So how's that going to feed somebody?" White said.

He also pointed out the municipality's planning team was inconsistent with the zoning and relied on aerial mapping to pick out farmland. His neighbour, with the same soil, has not been zoned agricultural reserve since their land has grown slightly more wild.

Municipality considering concerns

Municipal Warden Eleanor Roulston said she's been hearing the concerns loud and clear throughout public consultations held over the past few weeks.

The new zoning laws are part of a proposed community plan for roughly half of East Hants that has never had such rules. Roulston said it's a project they were not intending to do "in any way, shape or form," but the province now requires every municipality to bring in land-use planning.

"I can't say what the outcome will be. I can say we're listening to everything," Roulston said Tuesday.

She added that anyone who feels their land has been improperly zoned should submit their issues in writing to the municipality.

The final public meeting on the plan was held Tuesday evening, and Roulston said now the municipality's planning staff will take all feedback into consideration before bringing a report to council, likely in the new year. East Hants has until 2024 to enact the new plan.


Haley Ryan


Haley Ryan is the municipal affairs reporter for CBC covering mainland Nova Scotia. Got a story idea? Send an email to, or reach out on Twitter @hkryan17.

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