COLUMN: An occasional wedding is not the problem

The recent Agricultural Land Commission decision to ban weddings on farmland presents mixed emotions.

COLUMN: An occasional wedding is not the problem

On the Other Hand by Mark Rushton

The recent Agricultural Land Commission decision to ban weddings on farmland presents mixed emotions. I truly believe that ag land should be used for agricultural purposes.

However, I also decry the covering of viable productive dirt with greenhouses and poultry barns despite them being among the most intensive use of food-producing structures.

In my mind, instead of covering hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of prime Delta soils with glass, greenhouses should be placed on non-productive land such as mined-out gravel pits or other marginal lands.

On the other hand, they are “agricultural” and do generate a vast supply of food product to a hungry market.

As to weddings on farmland, they are generally brief events that, but for a few hours, leave no lasting footprint on the land. And for the most part, in my experience, weddings are usually held on “special” farms, most often vineyards located on, or possessing, a spectacularly beautiful setting.

I doubt any bride and groom would want to exchange vows in front of the average dairy farm’s manure pit, or subject themselves and their guests to “security cleaning and clothing” required to clear bio-security on a poultry farm.

Instead, most choose a “farm” that, in reality, is less of an agricultural product producer than it is a beautifully landscaped “hobby” enterprise that has food, or wine, production almost as a secondary interest. This is not to say anyone should be able to convert ALR lands for the sole purpose as an entertainment venue. But for the occasional wedding, what can be the problem?

All of my kids had outdoor weddings: one in a park, one on a hotel beach and another in my own backyard. Two nephews said their nuptials on “farms.” In the latter three instances, tents went up one day, down the next. Parking was in a fallow pasture and all amenities (portable washroom facilities, catering and so forth) arrived the morning of, and were removed the next. And since most people work, virtually every wedding is restricted to a weekend.

Crunch the numbers and there are really not a lot of weddings taking place on farmland, and the few that are, leave nothing behind.

I will agree that the ALC needs to keep a sharp eye on the practice to ensure “farmers” aren’t taking advantage of the potential to increase their “farm gate” returns through wedding rentals.

Barns being converted to banquet halls, wedding chapels springing up beside the equipment shed, purpose-built structures or pastures paved for parking are not acceptable, and should be targeted.

But a couple of tents in one day, and out the other, on a sunny summer Saturday cannot generate any long-term effect on the productive viability of genuine farmland.

Everyone wants to keep farmers farming, to produce more food to make us less reliant on imports. Greenhouses do that, as do our dairy, beef, poultry, vegetable, fruit and wineries.

Farmers are an innovative bunch, and many are very successful, but for some it is a struggle to maintain a decent income, and thus permitting them to supplement their revenues by short-term rentals such as weddings allows them to stay in business.

Better a wedding or two than seeing the marginal farmer toss in the towel and see his/her land subdivided for non-productive “hobby farms.”