This story originally appeared in the August 4, 2016 edition of the Chilliwack Times
Local agri-tourism operators are greeting the provincial government’s clarification of what’s allowed in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) with measured relief.
Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick announced the changes Tuesday at a press conference in Delta nearly a year after a crackdown on weddings and other non-farm activities on farmland threatened a number of local businesses. The owners of the Chilliwack Corn Maze Pumpkin Farm in Greendale and Fantasy Farms in Rosedale were concerned last fall as a crackdown threatened their incomes.
The owner of Shelby’s Pond in Chilliwack said they had to cancel all weddings booked for 2016.
With Letnick’s announcement that no permit will be needed from Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for land owners to host commercial weddings or other non-agriculture festivals the stress is off the Chilliwack farms.
“I am sure it is not what everyone wanted,” Fantasy Farms owner Gary Moran told the Times. “But for us we are very relieved that they pretty much left the original allowable activities intact and the fact that we can do 10 other events such as weddings will make a big difference in our planning and now allow us to keep at least one more full-time helper on the farm.”
Over at the Chilliwack Corn Maze, owner Diane Bruinsma said she was “satisfied” with the changes.
“The main focus of our farm is educational tours as well as the corn maze and pumpkin patch,” she said. “During our off season we have hosted a small number of weddings and family reunions and the amounts of the events that the ALR is allowing is very reasonable. As well, the weddings and family reunions are also a good way for us to promote our farm tours and pumpkin patch.”
Letnick announced Tuesday that an ALR land owner may host 10 or fewer events in a calendar year each with no more than 150 guests. All parking must be on the farm and not spill out onto roadways, and the parking area must not interfere with the farm’s agricultural productivity.
A further restriction is that no new, permanent structures to accommodate weddings or festivals can be built.
If a land owner wants to have more than 150 guests or host an 11th wedding, then they must apply to the ALC for a permit.
The new restrictions do not apply to wineries, meaderies and cideries since they already were exempt from strict ALC agri-tourism rules.
Chilliwack farmer and chair of the BC Agriculture Council Stan Vander Waal said agri-tourism provides necessary income to many farming families and brings new connections through education.
“Agricultural production is fundamental to agri-tourism, making the Agriculture Land Commission’s work to preserve and encourage farming on agricultural land indispensable,” Vander Waal said in a Ministry press release.
Al Richmond, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) said the regulation provides clarity for local governments.
“Minister Letnick engaged with UBCM as this regulation was being developed and I support the proposed changes.”
Last fall both Bruinsma and Moran were concerned about a Ministry of Agriculture white paper. Part of the worry was about a crackdown on farm weddings, which were already in violation of ALC rules, but also that agri-tourism activity should “augment a farmer’s regular farm income, rather than exceed or replace it.”
Bruinsma said the Chilliwack Corn Maze grows pumpkins and corn, but most of the income comes from gate receipts.
“I am passionate about teaching kids about learning where their food comes from,” Bruinsma said last year. “The opportunity to see things grow, and see the importance of agriculture, if you don’t have the people [on the farm] they don’t understand.”
Activities that do not require an application to the ALC include:. Farm tours and farm demonstrations. Hay, tractor and sleigh rides. Corn mazes, pumpkin patch tours and related activities. Seasonal promotional events (e.g., harvest and Christmas fairs and activities). Special promotional events (e.g., private or public special occasion events for the promotion of farm products).