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Province, industry unite over on-farm weddings
[David Schmidt]



DELTA - Agritourism operators will again be allowed to host a limited number of weddings on their farms provided a number of conditions are met.


BC Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick went to Emma Lea Farms in Delta, August 2, to announce a new regulation clarifying what agritourism activities will be allowed in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).


Letnick said the new rules are a result of two years of consultations with industry and local government. Both were looking for more clarity as to what constitutes acceptable agritourism activities after the Agricultural Land Commission nixed weddings and certain other events on ALC land in 2014.


While farmers have always been allowed to hold non-commercial events, the new regulations now allow them to host such commercial non-agricultural events as weddings, concerts and festivals subject to the following conditions:


• The farm has farm status under the Assessment Act – Farms under two acres must have annual revenue from agricultural activities of at least $10,000/year while larger farms must have revenues of at least $2,500/year to obtain farm status. Revenue from agritourism activities, including permitted uses like corn mazes, do not qualify as income for determining farm status.


• No new, permanent structures are built for the events

• All parking must be on the farm and the parking area must not be permanent nor interfere with the farm's agricultural productivity;

• There can no more than 150 guests at the event, and

• There are no more than 10 such events in a calendar year.


Activities which fall within the new guidelines can be conducted without the need for permission from the ALC. If a farm wants to exceed those guidelines, i.e., build a new facility for the event, hold larger weddings or more than 10 events, it must apply to the ALC for a permit.


The restrictions do not apply to on-farm wineries, meaderies and cideries. They can continue to operate as usual without an application to the ALC.


Other activities permitted without an ALC application include farm tours, farm demonstrations, hay, tractor and sleigh rides, corn mazes and pumpkin patch tours, seasonal promotional events such as harvest and Christmas fairs and other special events to promote farm products.

Non-commercial events such as a wedding for friends and family of the farm are also exempt. That was already the case at Emma Lea Farms. Although the farm has an on-farm market and berry U-pick, owner Kevin Husband notes he only ever hosted one wedding. That was considered a non-commercial event as it was for a valued employee.


Letnick calls the new regulation a “compromise” intended to protect farmland while still creating new opportunities for farms to supplement their income.


“(We are) committed to an ALR that works for farmers and helps them grow their businesses through farming, food production and activities like agri-tourism. These regulations offer a needed balance while allowing B.C. farmers to supplement their incomes through secondary activities that support farming and agriculture.”


BC Agriculture Council executive director Reg Ens says the new regulation “reinforces the value and role of the ALC,” adding that “enabling farmers to earn a healthy living is the best way to ensure a sustainable farm sector.”


Two weeks later, under the heading ‘no news is good news,’ Ens said he has received no feedback from his members on the new regulation, suggesting farmers are either accepting of or at least resigned to the new rules.


Letnick admitted “some think we’ve gone too far and some think we’ve not gone far enough,” saying the first-year experience will be reviewed in fall, 2017, to see if any changes need to be made.


While local governments will not be able to prohibit weddings from taking place on ALR land, he says they may require farmers to apply for permits specifying conditions regarding noise, parking, fireworks or other disturbances.


ALC chair Frank Leonard welcomed the new regulation as it defines thresholds for agritourism and fits the ALC’s mandate to “support farming and keep land viable for agriculture.”


Union of BC Municipalities president Al Richmond said the new regulation brings “certainty and clarity” to local governments, noting “Minister Letnick engaged with UBCM as this regulation was being developed and I support the changes."





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Vol.102 Issue 9
SEPTEMBER 2016