Fraser Valley – In 2016, it seemed that the on going fight between the ALC Agriculture Land Commission and farmers who want to promote Agri-Tourism on their farms, through weddings and other “special events”, seemed to have been settled.
No new permanent structures and 10 events a year.
When Vancouver and the Valley hosted NAFDMA, the North American Farmers Direct Marketing Association in February 2016, American farmers were shocked to learn that Ag-Tourism was even an issue here in BC. They do events all the time, to drum up interest in the industry.
Now farms such as Gary and Lisa Moran at Fantasy Farms, a similar operation on Vancouver Island and others who feel they are promoting Ag-Tourism, are facing a crunch.
In the case of Chilliwack’s Fantasy Farms, they were told that after November 1, 2019, that was the end of special events. That would mean Petey’s Pumpkin Patch, Reapers Haunted House, the Garlic Festival and Petey’s Country Christmas/Christmas To Remember, would come to a screeching halt.
This story has gone viral on provincial TV. Gary Moran told FVN: On Wednesday, Lisa (Moran) received a call from the City saying they received a complaint that we were set to open and somehow they knew that our application to the ALC was refused. The City said if we open we will be fined daily and that a letter was to follow. I called the Mayor right away and explained that this (Reapers) is our biggest income earner for the year and without it. It would put us in a financial pickle. He called me back and said that they are not going to start fining us until November first so any events after that will be fined. So no Christmas or Christmas to Remember here on the farm but we will see if we can find a place to do the Christmas to Remember because I have not been growing this beard just to keep me warm.
The 2016 Media Release from the Province of BC seemed to have made it clear:
The British Columbia government has brought clarity to permitted agri-tourism activities and has established new opportunities around events, such as weddings in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), to help farmers grow their incomes and help British Columbians share the growing passion for local foods and farming.
The Ministry of Agriculture has developed a regulation that establishes that ALR land owners will not need a permit from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to host specific activities like commercial weddings, concerts or non-agriculture related festivals, providing that:
- The farm is classified as having farm status under the Assessment Act;
- No new, permanent structures are being built;
- All parking must be on the farm (no road parking) but the parking area must not be permanent nor interfere with the farm’s agricultural productivity;
- The number of guests at any event is 150 or less; and
- The number of events is 10 or less in a calendar year.
An application to the ALC is required if any of the above conditions are not met. For example, a farm that wishes to hold a wedding with 200 guests, or hosts the 11th wedding on their farm in a calendar year will need to apply to the ALC. In addition, regardless of whether an application to the ALC is required, farmers must also continue to meet all relevant local government requirements, such as event hosting, liquor licenses, and fire code requirements.
The restrictions in the regulation do not apply to wineries, meaderies and cideries, as many are established providers of these services and already have infrastructure, licensing and procedures in place. These facilities can continue to operate as they have been without requiring an application to the ALC.
Local governments cannot prohibit weddings from taking place on land in the ALR, but can require the farmers to apply for a permit which could specify conditions related to amplified sound, parking, fireworks or other disturbances.
The policy of not requiring permits for activities described in the ALC’s Policy on Agri-tourism Activities has also been formalized into the regulation. 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)