The Littles’ last stand: how a modest farm stand got a couple into a neighbourhood jam
Katherine and James Little fought the bylaw, and they won
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Katherine and James Little fought the bylaw, and they won
Laden with jars of jams, jellies, chutneys, and salsas, The Little Stand, a white and navy structure adorned with hand-painted jam jars and raspberries, appeared in the summer of 2018 on the side of Queensbury Avenue in Saanich. In an area where farm stands abound at the end of long rural driveways, Katherine and James Little did not expect this small stand to launch them into an exhausting battle that would permanently change their community.
That June, the Littles were having an unsuccessful garage sale when they decided to add the raspberries they had picked from the bush that ran along the side of their house to the offerings. To their surprise, most of the raspberries sold in an afternoon. “I think you need to build me a stand,” Katherine told James.
They found the base for their stand on Used Victoria, painted it with their name and a couple of raspberries, and placed it on the street outside their house, laden with containers of fruit. Just like that, The Little Stand was created. They placed a sign down the street and opened for business.
Their stand had been up for 18 months and things were going well—“Until the neighbour complained,” Katherine says.
The signs they had placed on Blenkinsop Road offended a neighbour, and that led to a visit from the first of many bylaw officers. They replaced the signs on Blenkinsop Road with a sandwich board in front of their house, but bylaw officers came knocking again. “Not only can you not have a sandwich board,” Katherine recalls being told, “You can’t have a stand.”
The couple moved The Little Stand off the road in an attempt to appease both neighbours and bylaw officers, but again and again they were asked to remove the stand. Katherine and James didn’t see any reason they should not be allowed to sell their fruit, so they refused. Thus commenced a two-and-a-half-year battle.
Katherine and James have a large yet surprisingly normal looking kitchen, considering all the preserves it produces. Katherine wears a t-shirt that reads It’s just Freakin’ Jam and Flippin’ Flowers. A playlist of ’70s rock plays quietly in the background.
James drops a massive binder onto the dining room table, filled with all their publicity and legal papers, while Katherine pulls out a scrapbook her mother made filled with photos and clippings of their adventure fighting for The Little Stand.
Saanich Bylaw had no idea that they had picked a fight with a retired Canadian Border Services Agency officer, who spent 18 years as a plain-clothes unit in Vancouver responsible for fighting organized crime and terrorism. Katherine only started making jam after she was forced into early retirement after sustaining an injury to her back in a foot chase—she jumped a fence and dropped down 11 feet—only to be injured again a month later in another attempted arrest.
“There was no way to mentally prepare for not having a career that I loved. And I adored it,” Katherine says. At the top of her field, Katherine had been hand-picked to be one of the first officers armed out of thousands in the CBSA.
It was through navigating the legalities of early retirement and unpaid medical leave that she met her now-husband James Little, the labour relations officer who represented her as her union lawyer. After their work-related meetings slowly turned into dinners, the couple married and settled into their forever home on Queensbury Avenue.
Katherine needed an outlet to deal with the physical and mental pain of her injury, and the absurdity of not being able to sell fruit on their own property gave her something to fight for. So Katherine made a decision: “This bylaw is stupid and I’m going to change it.”
Some neighbours, it seems, liked the bylaw the way it was. The Littles started receiving threatening letters from an anonymous source, claiming they were destroying the peaceful neighbourhood—and even that it was better off before they moved in. One letter detailed the comings and goings of people and vehicles from their stand all day, making it clear to them that they were being watched.
“We ended up calling a lawyer at one point because we really felt like we were being harassed,” Katherine says. But the escalation continued. The Little Stand was knocked down one night and several of the signs on their property were snapped in half or stolen right off the lawn. “This person started to get aggressive, so we called the police.”
The Littles suspected that the person who had filed the original complaint may be behind the vandalism and harassment. But even after Saanich Police called the bylaw office, the city refused to release the name. The letters and complaints continued for over 6 months before they were sent to the council instead of the Littles’ front door.
That farm stands are banned in Saanich may come as a shock to anyone who has seen the numerous stands selling eggs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers in the area. Consuming locally through small businesses like farm stands keeps money in the community and brings people together; it also cuts down on the carbon emissions of transporting food around the world.
It’s hard to get more local than The Little Stand: Katherine and James have a peach tree and raspberry bushes on their property. They get their apples, cherries, pears, plums, blueberries, and strawberries from family members. One friend has a quince tree, while another has tomatoes.
Although they do not pretend to grow pineapples or mangoes, the vast majority of the produce that is not collected from friends and family is also sourced locally. They get the blackberries from around the Cedar Hill Golf Course and find people on online markets trying to get rid of excess fruits they don’t use, offering a gift basket of jam in return. Slowly they started to produce more than just jams and jellies, branching into chutneys, salsa, and an immensely popular antipasto.
The popularity didn’t matter to the authorities, however—and they were breaking a bylaw. Several, in fact.
Firstly, having The Little Stand on the street outside their house violated the Saanich Boulevards Violation Bylaw No. 9487: no one can build structures on the boulevard without a permit. Secondly, the Zoning Bylaw 8200 stated that without a permit an individual cannot occupy a table or booth for the purpose of retail marketing of goods, and that no commodity shall be sold or displayed on the premises of a home without a temporary permit.
In early spring, almost five months after the beginning of the Littles’ fight with Saanich Bylaw, Katherine knew she had to take action. She called all eight city council members, spending more than seven hours in one day on the phone to try to convince them to grant a temporary permit while they fought to change the bylaw. “I knew I had four locked in,” she says. “One was kind of like, ‘Ah, the rules are the rules,’ but the other three absolutely said that they would support a temporary permit.”
Even so, the votes fell through as Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes did not support their endeavour. “At the time, the property was not zoned for individual business use,” the mayor’s office said in a statement to Capital Daily.
There was no effort to grant a temporary permit or change the bylaw. Not satisfied, Katherine turned to the media. After she contacted a friend associated with the Times Colonist, the paper showed interest in their story and arranged an interview.
The Littles had no idea that their story would be prominently posted on the paper’s second page. “I don't know if it was a slow news day for the Times Colonist or what,” she laughs. “The newspaper hit people’s doorsteps at six o'clock, I'm at work and my husband is calling [frantically] saying, ‘There are reporters at the front door.’”
Katherine, who had preferred to remain social-media-anonymous, suddenly had reporters from CHEK, Global, CTV, CBC, and Saanich News knocking on her door for lack of a better way of contacting her. “Before this if you Googled me you couldn't find me,” Katherine says. “I was really proud of that.” But with the abundance of media attention came an abundance of new customers.
“Because they thought we were going out of business, they were buying like 18 jars,” James laughs. Katherine chimes in, “Like, it's not Costco!”All the while, the Littles were still trying to find a way around the bylaws. The couple talked to multiple city council members and the bylaw enforcement director finally came up with a solution: to take orders rather than having product on The Little Stand.
The couple started printing out order forms. At this point, their clientele was mostly neighbours and customers who were determined to keep them in business. The process of fighting the local government was bringing the community together. Complete strangers who wanted to stand up for their community would show up at the city council meetings and speak in their favour. Others travelled down from Sidney to purchase their products. A couple from Texas on their honeymoon made seeing the now-famous stand a priority, second only to seeing the Victoria Butterfly Gardens.
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At the same time, retailers stepped up to help. Peppers, the local grocery store, started to sell their jams: a daunting proposition for a small business that had never dreamed of branching out to grocery stores. “We worked day and night to get [the order] ready. I get to the store and I go, ‘So what do I do now?’ And this poor kid’s like, ‘You just leave the jam,’” Katherine laughs.
They continued with the order forms, but then the pandemic hit, giving them another opportunity to fight the bylaw: other local businesses were being forced to close and move their products to the farm stand method. An acquaintance, a woman who owns a Saanich flower business and had moved to a stand after multiple wedding events fell through, reached out after her stand was targeted by the bylaw enforcers. With a respected business owner now on their side, they hoped to sway the vote of the city council members and the mayor.
In November 2020, almost two and a half years after the Littles’ stand opened in 2018, success was on the horizon. Finally, they sat in the council meeting waiting to hear the new bylaw read aloud.
“We specifically fought for value-added,” Katherine says. Without this distinction, the Littles would not be allowed to sell their jam—only the fresh fruits and berries. The new bylaw read:
Farmers can sell product: through brokers or direct to wholesalers and retailers; through direct market outlets such as roadside stands and farmer’s markets; or where allowed by Municipal Zoning, through on-farm sales.
“I remember, when they read out the actual changed bylaw, I was like ‘Please say it.’”
The next line was read out: A farmer may also wish to combine the on-farm sales with numerous value-added sales and agri-tourism concepts where permitted.
“The minute it said ‘value-added,’—‘Thank God!’”
At long last, the Jam Lady stood victorious. Katherine laughs as she recites her personal motto, “They picked the wrong stand!”
“If this had happened to anybody else,” Katherine says, “they probably would have said, ‘Whatever, it’s not worth it,’ ’cause it was so exhausting, those two years of fighting for it and continuing and just not giving up.”
One evening, very late, James and Katherine got a knock on their front door. It was a local man who Katherine didn’t recognize. “I'm having people over,” he said. “I need a chutney.”
Katherine stood shocked in the door of her house in her pajamas. “Umm, OK. Here ya go,” she said, handing him a chutney.
“It still reminds me just how community-based this particular company is and that's why when people keep asking if I'm going to be in Save-On, no, it's not gonna happen,” Katherine says.
“We could actually turn this thing into something [big],” James adds. “But that's for somebody else, right. That's not for us.”
The Littles prefer to keep their business local, reveling in these little moments of community.
Another day, James and Katherine were working outside when a woman drove by and rolled her window down. Slowing down, she yelled out the window, “Your mild salsa is way too hooooooooot” and drove away, leaving James and Katherine standing confused in their front yard.
James bursts into laughter. “Our mild salsa is pretty much tomato paste!”
Every morning they set out the stand and every evening they tuck it back away. They take orders and read every suggestion made by their customers because—despite the neighbour-on-neighbour dispute that greeted its arrival—what they love most about their business has become the way it brings their community together.