Darvonda Nurseries in Langley. Rusted Rake in Nanoose Bay. Maan Farms in Abbotsford. Fantasy Farms in Chilliwack.
These and other operations in the province’s venerable Agricultural Land Reserve have all come under scrutiny in recent months as the Agricultural Land Commission has taken a “farming first” approach to applications and activities.
While growers and property owners say diversification and innovation are being stifled, the ALC has made clear that farming must be the priority for properties within the ALR. Ancillary and conditional activities must follow from primary food production rather than be an excuse to engage with it.
But that doesn’t sit well with Delta South MLA Ian Paton, who serves as agriculture critic for the BC Liberals. With the fall sitting of the legislature kicking off this week, he says opposition MLAs plan to raise their concerns at every opportunity during question period.
“[Agritourism is] the way to get people out to experience farm life,” he says.
But revitalization of the land commission, including a boost in compliance and enforcement staff to seven people around the province, means there are fewer operations ready to welcome people onto farms, says Paton.
“[ALC staff] have basically been told, ‘Start shutting everything down,’ and somehow they think that’s going to preserve farmland in BC,” he says of the government’s approach.
Kim Grout, CEO of the ALC, has repeatedly said the commission’s compliance and enforcement staff are not on the prowl for non-compliant activities. Indeed, many of the requests to shut down or relocate have been the result of decisions on applications regarding new or expanded uses.
Compliance and enforcement staff indicate that the number of complaints received by the commission is up 25% this year to date versus last year.