Almost a year after B.C. farm weddings were banned due to a crackdown on agricultural land use rules

Almost a year after B.C. farm weddings were banned due to a crackdown on agricultural land use rules

Brides, bands allowed back on Chilliwack farmland after change

Almost a year after B.C. farm weddings were banned due to a crackdown on agricultural land use rules, some clarification has emerged.

Jessica Peters

The Progress

Brides in the Fraser Valley can start dreaming about farmhouse weddings once again.

Almost a year after B.C. farm weddings were banned due to a crackdown on agricultural land use rules, the B.C. government has clarified what commercial activities are allowed on farmland. And that includes up to 10 commercial weddings, concerts or non-agricultural events per year without a permit from the Agricultural Land Commission.

Gary Moran, owner of Fantasy Farms on Gibson Road, says he and his wife are breathing a sigh of relief following the decision.

“Lisa and I are feeling like a giant weight has been lifted off our shoulders,” he says. “And not necessarily regarding weddings but that all the other activities we provide Chilliwack are still covered under the new regulations.”

Fantasy Farms is one of several Chilliwack farms that hosts events on their land to help promote agriculture.

“Being given the green light so to speak to do 10 other events without a lot of red tape or having to apply to have our farm classified as non-farm use … it will also mean we can grow our summer business and introduce hundreds of people to our farm and what we offer.”

He says the decision means they can hire at least one year round staff member to help with those events. Weddings are big business, helping increase demand for hotels, photography, taxi services, florists, DJs, restaurants, and caterers, he says.

“This all adds up to a big win for our great city,” he says.

Allison Colthorp, executive director of Tourism Chilliwack, agrees.

“It’s a great opportunity for agri-tourism in our community and throughout B.C.,” she says. “It gives us really good clarity on where the ALC stands on this issue that was controversial in the past. We’re excited, and we’re hoping to hear more from the city on how they’ll be managing this opportunity.”

The new regulation states that farmers can take payment to host a wedding or other event as long as no more than 150 guests attend and a list of conditions are met. The regulations took effect Tuesday.

To qualify, event hosts must provide all parking on the farm rather than along roads, with no permanent parking lots or structures, and the event must end in less than 24 hours. For more than 10 events a year or exceeding 150 guests, properties with farm tax status must apply to the ALC for a permit.

The new regulation also clarifies ALC policies to allow, with no permit, farm tours and demonstrations, hayrides, corn mazes, pumpkin patch tours, harvest and Christmas fairs and special occasion events to promote farm products.

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said the regulation requiring farms to generate at least 50 per cent of its revenue from farm products is also scrapped, after consultation in the past year suggested the new rules instead.

The crackdown on farm weddings came last fall, when the ALC issued stop-work orders to B.C. farms including the Fraser Valley, Kelowna and Vancouver Island.

The restriction came after the province expanded farm uses to allow breweries and distilleries to operate on protected farmland with the same rules used to permit wineries. The rules allowed for processing of farm crops into products such as juice or jam for commercial sale.

~ With files from Tom Fletcher