Agricultural Land Commission crackdown on farm weddings leads to cancellations
'This was my dream wedding, and all of a sudden the rug was getting pulled from underneath me'
Some B.C. brides and grooms hoping to exchange vows at the perfect pastoral wedding may need to start making alternate arrangements.
The B.C. Agricultural Land Commission, which governs the use of all farmland in the province, will soon be considering whether or not to allow farms in the ALR to hire out their facilities for weddings.
"Lately there are so many people using farm facilities for weddings, that I'm pretty sure it's something the commission will be coming up with some standards on pretty quickly and for right across the province," said ALC vice-chair Gerry Zimmermann.
The statement follows at least two recent incidents of the ALC apparently ordering farms to stop hosting weddings on their property, despite having bookings in the days ahead.
ALC rules clearly state that non-agricultural activity is not allowed on the lands it governs.
'Dream wedding' cancelled
"This was my dream wedding, and all of a sudden the rug was getting pulled from underneath me, and I was devastated," said Hendriks.
She had gotten a call from Woodbridge Ponds owner Caroline Mosterman saying that the ALC had given them notice to stop all non-farming activities immediately.
Luckily, Mosterman and her husband scrambled to accommodate Hendriks at a nearby neighbour's farm instead.
"Had she not offered those options, I don't know what I would have done to organize a wedding at that point," said Hendriks.
Mosterman said she had five other weddings booked before the end of their season. The venue advertises itself as "a perfect backdrop for weddings, special events, corporate events or any occasion where the atmosphere must reflect the organizers and guests."
Hendriks and her now husband had chosen the venue for their wedding on Oct. 1 because of its lush setting, and because it could accommodate smaller parties.
"I think a lot of people like this style of venue — it's very relaxed, it's very much less formal, it appeals to a lot of people," said Hendriks.
"I don't understand why people wouldn't be able to take advantage of that."
Weddings as 'agri-tourism'
Mosterman said Woodbridge Ponds operates primarily as a nursery and blueberry farm. Six years ago, she and her husband starting hosting weddings and other events under what she called the ALC's agri-tourism provisions.
As the happy bride and groom get their photos taken amongst a patch of blueberries, Mosterman said staff take the wedding guests on tours on the nursery and the rest of the property.
"That is such an amazing opportunity to reach people that would otherwise never step foot onto our farm," she said. "We've noticed a huge increase in sales in our nursery."
The ALC's laws clearly state that non-farm activity is only allowed with a permit.
According to Mosterman, those permits take up to two years to obtain. Which, considering some farms charge upwards of $10,000 to host weddings on their property, would cause a considerable financial opportunity loss.
Mosterman said she's heard of a number of farms that have been told to close their gates to wedding parties.
"We're trying to band together to form a collective voice," she said.
Weddings could be permitted
Zimmermann said he wasn't aware of the incident in Abbotsford, but that generally the ALC doesn't immediately enforce infringements.
"We don't go and cut people off on the spot," he said. "There's a whole bunch of questions that would be asked … It would depend on a variety of things," he said.
Factors under consideration would include ensuring farming is the primary activity on the farm — which Mosterman says is the case at Woodbridge — and looking at how the non-agricultural activity might impact other farms.
"We don't go looking for people who are not compliant, we basically do it on a complaint-driven thing."
He also said there's still a chance weddings could continue to take place on ALC lands.
"The commission hasn't taken a position yet other than weddings are considered non-farm use," he said.
To hear an interview with Caroline Mostertman click the link: Agricultural Land Commission crackdown on farm weddings leads to cancellations
With files from Cory Correia