The owners of Fantasy Farms are pinning their hopes on applying for a reconsideration of an Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) decision that they say is threatening their future.
“We’re going to finish the season with our pumpkin patch and then apply for a reconsideration,” said Gary Moran, co-owner of Fantasy Farms. “It will be too late for our Christmas village this year.”
Gary and Lisa Moran had been advised last year to apply for “non farm use” designation from the ALC., in order to legitimize the continued use their agriculture buildings on farm land, which they did.
They asked that those uses be “grandfathered in,” but the Morans’ request was rejected by the ALC’s South Coast Panel in April.
Lisa and Gary Moran say their goal now is applying for the reconsideration of the decision focused on the .4 of a hectare of their property to be used for special events, like Petey’s Pumpkin Patch, Reapers Haunted Attractions, the Garlic Festival, weddings and more in the years to come.
But if they fail to win a reconsideration, they’ve said it will spell the end of their popular farm-based activities in Chilliwack, that they have been developing for more than 25 years.
The rules changed under the previous government run by the BC Liberals, like The government of the time went ahead with the goal of revitalizing and strengthening the Agricultural Land Reserve, (ALR) and making the ALC more independent. According to the new rules, “permanent” buildings and structures, like the greenhouse, could not be used for non-farm events in the ALR, which is how the special events at Fantasy Farms are classified.
Fast forward to recently, and City of Chilliwack officials notified the Morans earlier this month they’d received a complaint about their Reapers haunted house attraction, which triggered an investigation.
To clarify what is at stake, The Progress contacted the ALC and determined the central issue the ALC panel considered in making its decision was whether the existing non-farm uses at Fantasy Farms were adversely impacting “the agricultural utility” of the property.
“Since the greenhouse, propagation house and ‘shipping room house’ remain on the property year-round, they are considered to be permanent,” according to the ALC South Coast Panel’s ‘Reasons for Decision’ document.
It states those structures “are not used primarily for farming and are underutilized for the purposes of agriculture.”
The Panel found that the use of the buildings meant for agricultural production for agri-tourism instead “conflicts with regular agricultural operations” and therefore reduces the “utility of the structures for agriculture.”
Also the maximum number of events is 10 events or gatherings on ag land per year. The panel estimated there were 68 annual events taking place on the Chilliwack property.
“While some activities taking place within the approximately 58 events are considered agri-tourism, other activities within the events do not meet the criteria for agri-tourism,” the document continued.
The ALC panel issued a reminder.
“The panel wishes to remind the applicants that agri-tourism is required to be ancillary to the agricultural activities occurring on the property, with the highest priority being the agricultural activity on the property,” according to the ALC document.
But Moran said he’s not sure how the panel is counting the events, unless they were counting each day the attraction was open.
“In terms of non-agricultural events we have about four weddings a year,” Moran added.
But the panel found that the “additional events conflict with, and reduce, the opportunity for regular agricultural operations” on the Gibson Road property.
Part of the problem, the farm owner said, is that they don’t speak the ALC’s language.
“Small lot farmers like us, we are Buy BC,” Moran said. “Agriculture tourism farms are the best investment to inspire new farmers and new farm customers.”
As far as they’re concerned there should be “no limit” whatsoever on how much agri-tourism operators can earn through events, education and festivals, as opposed to the amount of actual agricultural product that is sold, Moran added.
“Saving farm families is just as important as saving farmland,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham told The Progress they are currently consulting across B.C. to find out what farmers think about the legislative changes made to revitalize the ALR and ALC by the previous government.
“We are consulting now to see if they want these rules tweaked,” Minister Popham said.
Whether people want to see more agri-tourism, or if they think it’s “the thin edge of the wedge” and needs to be limited, the opportunity for engaging the public is there. That process will be continually evolving as they hone the legislation.
The situation with the Morans “has a history with lots of background,” and while the province is interested in exploring “value-added opportunities” there is no appetite for erodiing farmland to do it, the minister said.
“It’s important to note we haven’t done anything that would have instigated a crackdown,” she said.
To comment on the ALR changes go here for the online link
The focus of the public consultation is to hear how the province could:
• Support farmers and ranchers in the ALR to expand and diversify;
• Help new or young farmers become established; and,
• Ensure there is flexibility for residential options while prioritizing agriculture in the ALR.
Feedback is being sought until November 15, 2019 at 4 p.m.