Saanich Peninsula producers react to provincial leniency for farm weddings

Government clarifies permitted agri-tourism activities.

Owner of Muse Winery

The British Columbia government is being more clear when it comes to permitted agri-tourism activities and has established new opportunities around events like weddings.

The News Review contacted local agricultural producers for their thoughts on the recent change.

“I think its wonderful. I think on the Peninsula farming and keeping our agricultural land operating as agriculture is really important, but it’s very hard to just do that,” says Jane Ellmann, owner of Muse Winery in North Saanich.

“The addition of non-farm use, bringing people out to see the property, to see what we do, certainly helps the product that we’re trying to sell that’s farmed here so I think it’s wonderful. Agri-tourism is huge and it’s a very important part of farming in today’s world.”

Ellmann said she knew there were issues with weddings and non-farm use events, but her understanding was that it had to do with the municipalities. And so they dealt with North Saanich on various issues — one of which was a contentious parking concern at their winery.

In the past, she said they had thought it was okay to park on the boulevard along the front of the property but later found out it wasn’t allowed by the municipality. So they applied for a variance permit to fill in the ditch and make parking stalls.

They were then able to add the required number of parking spots to match their occupancy level of 80 people.

A regulation developed by the Ministry of Agriculture has established that ALR land owners will not need a permit from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to host specific activities like weddings, given a few guidelines. Some of those include: the number of guests be capped at 150; the number of events is 10 or less in a calendar year, and; that no new, permanent structures are to be built.

For Dallas Bohl, owner of The Roost Farm Market, his business is all about growth, but he said no weddings are on the radar.

“One of the things with our previous expansion is we looked at doing weddings and we booked three weddings on site,” he said. “And we had some concerns from the neighbours (who) were curious of what we were doing.”

He said they hosted three weddings and were closed at 10 p.m., trying to be conscious of neighbours but, he said, weddings just didn’t become a focus at The Roost and never will.

“I find that when we can put the farm as the star, that’s where we excel,” said Bohl.

“Yes, the regulations have changed and they should, they should be specific because it’s been all left to interpretation …”

Owner of Central Saanich’s de Vine Vineyards, John Windsor is also staying away from weddings.

Having held them before, he is all too familiar with their consequences, especially noise complaints from neighbours.

“Me being the person (who) decided to get out of weddings a year ago … and concentrate on being a winery and distillery … I think the ALC found a reasonable balance with the 10 events per year and up to 150 people.

“The reason why I think that is the reality, that it’s almost impossible for small farms to profit. They just don’t,” he said.

If agricultural land is going to stay agricultural, Windsor said, it has to be viable in some way and having a supplemental form of income is key.

This however will not change his opinion on holding weddings at de Vine.

Having only ever held eight weddings in the past, Windsor said it was taking up a huge amount of staff time. He added it was better to apply their resources to the winery which is what they are — a winery and distillery.

He said the change in the ALR does provide good benefit, depending on what facilities and services any particular farm has.

“It all depends on the individual situations but it does allow small farms to try and add a little bit of supplemental income which they desperately need, and failing that, they end up growing hay.”