Farm weddings cancelled as rules tighten

Proposal could limit local agri-tourism and income

Weddings on Fraser Valley farms may become a thing of the past, if stricter rules for agricultural land use in B.C. are adopted.

Caroline Mosterman, who owns CPM Farms on Sumas Prairie, has hosted weddings, fundraisers, and garden club events on her land for six years. With blueberry fields and a water plant nursery on the farm, the venue has built-in outdoor ambience. But on Sept. 28, the Agricultural Land Commission delivered a stop-work order, telling her to cancel all non-farm events.

“It’s going to be crippling to the agri-tourism industry,” Mosterman said. There were five weddings scheduled for this fall, plus more in 2016 and 2017. She has been told she needs to apply for a non-farm use permit to start hosting events again a process that requires local and provincial approval and can take up to two years.

It was one of many stop-work orders issued by the ALC to B.C. farms this year, including some in Chilliwack, Langley, Kelowna and on Vancouver Island.

Farm weddings may be permanently off the table if a proposal from the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, which specifically labels “commercial weddings” as a non-farm use, is adopted.

Serena Miller had her May 2016 wedding, booked at CPM, cancelled this September.

“I’m absolutely devastated,” said Miller. She and her fiancé, Steve Kirton, live in Surrey, and they looked all over the Lower Mainland to find a unique site within their budget.

“If we don’t find another venue we might have to move our date into 2017,” she said.

Shyla Slade, an Abbotsford wedding planner and the owner of Valley Weddings, says her clients are more interested in different venues like farms than traditional spots such as hotel banquet rooms.

“It will definitely affect my business,” said Slade. “I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of other options for brides in the Valley.”

The proposal deals with what farmers can and can’t do on the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), B.C.’s provincially protected farmland.

Current ALR rules allow “seasonal agri-tourism,” but they’re less clear about what qualifies. The proposal from the ministry of agriculture is much more specific, and it also would limit farms on ALR to only receive agri-tourism income equal to or less than their yearly farming income.

Mosterman, who has farmed livestock and produce, thinks this financial benchmark doesn’t make sense. Fluctuating commodity prices can make a small farm’s income vary widely from year to year and in especially lean years, even small events like hay rides could run afoul of the proposed rules.

She’s banded together with a group of other ALR farmers from across the province, including seven from the Valley, who call themselves the B.C. Agri-Tourism Farming Association, to lobby the province to loosen the rules.

“The effects will be socially and financially massive We’re not the only farm that is affected,” Mosterman said.

“We just feel that weddings on farmland should be an acceptable use of farmland. Our sales in our nursery have increased substantially since we started hosting events (they) are attracting people to the farm.”

The ministry has proposed a set of rules local governments would need to adopt into bylaws to regulate ALR farms.

According to the ministry, it’s in response to local governments asking for more clarity, but the City of Abbotsford says the proposal would pose problems.

Mayor Henry Braun worries that limiting agri-tourism income to be equal or less than farm income would be a costly hassle to enforce, requiring the city to examine farmers’ accounting records.

But on the issue of weddings and other events, Braun said the city can’t voice a position all Abbotsford can do is enforce the ministry and ALC’s definitions of non-farm use.

The ministry was going to stop accepting comments about the proposal on Nov. 30, but in response to pressure has extended the deadline to Jan. 15, 2016.

Mosterman thinks the extra time is much-needed.

“I think it’d be prudent to wait. It’d be foolish to push this through,” she said.

Representatives from the ministry of agriculture did not return News’ requests for comment by press time.

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