Ag Tourism Farm Weddings, Festivals Could Be In Jeopardy – Loss Of Added Farm Income

Fraser Valley – On the heels of a discussion paper from the BC Ministry Of Agriculture, concerns have been raised as to what farmers can legitimately and legally do to supplement their farm income.

Popular ways are to hold weddings, corn mazes and festivals (Halloween scare rides, pumpkin patches, music festivals, food events and Christmas hay rides).

A number of farmers (who were never consulted by the Province) have banded together to ask that this discussion of what can and can not be done on their farms, be extended. The discussion paper deadline was November 30.

That discussion paper link can be found here.

The BC Agri-Touirism Farmers Association stories can be found here.

The main concerns for any wedding or festival on a farm, boils down to noise and traffic control and to some extent, taking away income from hotels/motels.

There at least 12 farms (at time of publishing and more waiting to see how this plays out) that have issued a statement asking the Ministry for clarification on this discussion paper. That includes Gary Moran of Fantasy Farms where they hold weddings and festivals on the property.

Despite several requests over two weeks, there has been no response from the Ministry of Agriculture or the ALC.

NOTE: The process for a special events permit (say a wedding) can take 6-8 months for a municipal green light and then the potential of another 6-8 months from the ALC. The total time could end up as a two year wait.

This makes it tough, if not impossible to plan a farm wedding.

The City of Abbotsford decided that they will defer pending further discussion. The City of Chilliwack has received the information and will be talking with a farmers liaison on Wednesday. What happens in the Fraser Valley will be watched with interest throughout the Province.

This is the farmers statement:

Picture yourself walking down the “aisle” of cherry blossoms, or under a grape arbour, or in a pastoral field surrounded by horses or perhaps in a “secret” garden. After saying your nuptials you leave for pictures, knowing that your guests will be treated to a farm tour. So there is no hurry at all. Your reception may be in a field or perhaps in a greenhouse. 

For many BC couples this scenario was very real. Many couples did indeed say “I do” in settings such as these. It is entirely possible that there will no longer be an option such as this if the Agriculture Land Commission has anything to say.  

Recently the BC Ministry of Agriculture posted a “discussion” document (dated Sept. 14, 2015) on their website in an attempt to assist in Regulating Agritourism and Farm Retail Sales within the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALC).  http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/farming-natural-resources-and-industry/agriculture-and-seafood/agricultural-land-and-environment/strengthening-farming/local-government-bylaw-standards/2015_09_14_agri-tourism_discussion_paper.pdf  

For existing operations (many having offered this service in excess of ten years) this came as quite a surprise. Weddings had to be relocated or canceled. 

While we can only imagine how couples responded to this news we know that agritourism farmers were wholeheartedly distraught. 

Agriculture Tourism is a way for many farms to add value to their products, to add value to their farms and in many instances to allow family members to work on farm as opposed to off farm. 

For a producer like the Mostertmans who grow aquatic plants and blueberries on their farm, being able to incorporate  weddings onto their farm has been a game changer. In an effort to increase farm gate sales they began to host events: Garden clubs, Rotary fundraisers, and you guessed it, when the public saw how beautiful their property was, weddings. 

We believe in the ALR and the goals that the ALC have to preserve farmland. To suggest however that bonifide farmers may NOT host weddings is absurd!  With all due respect to the ALC cows running in the field create more of a soil impact than some guests at a wedding.   

Weddings on farm do not equate to “paving paradise and putting up a parking lot” (Thank You, Joni Mitchell), but weddings create the opportunity for farmers to supplement their income  and at the same time educate their guests about their operation and agriculture. Most operations we are familiar with incorporate their farm grown products into the event; food, flowers, beef, pork, chicken or wine. 

To suggest that this activity takes away from other commercial businesses is far-fetched at best. 

People who want a farm/garden experience wedding don’t want to get married in a hotel banquet room. At the end of the day these farmers are likely putting dozens of “heads in beds” in those very same hotels. 

Farmers have every right to make a living, and they are the guardians of our land.  Let’s encourage them to stay on the land and perhaps even make a living. 

Crop prices drop, wedding prices don’t. 

Questions have been raised as to who else this will affect. The first concern that comes to mind are wineries and the restaurants and accommodations located on their properties.

This all goes back to what ALC by-law officers can decide and from that, create policy and rules.

 

 

1 Comment on "Ag Tourism Farm Weddings, Festivals Could Be In Jeopardy – Loss Of Added Farm Income"

  1. How silly is the ALR commission? I went to Italy 3 years ago, and a big base of the tourism in Tuscany is Agri-tourism, including bed & breakfasts, cooking schools, wedding and special event venues, etc. BC will really miss the boat by not embracing agri-tourism as a way to showcase everything our province has to offer. What does the Ministry responsible for tourism have to say?

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