A Fraser Valley farm that has educated and entertained children with a Halloween pumpkin patch and haunted house for more than a quarter century says the future of its popular seasonal attractions is at risk due to inflexible Agricultural Land Reserve rules.
In a Facebook post Sat. Oct. 5, Petey’s Pumpkin Patch announced this may be the last year for Petey’s Pumpkin Patch and Reapers Haunted Attractions due to the previous government’s changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve as it pertains to agri-tourism and events.
“My thought on this is it’s okay to grow pot, make wine or beer but family fun is just not allowed,” the post stated.
Fantasy Farms, which holds both events on its Chilliwack property, fears a decades old family tradition could soon be extinct.
“Every single farm in B.C. that does what I do is in jeopardy,” said farm owner Gary Moran.
Since 1993, Moran’s farm has hosted an annual haunted house and kids’ pumpkin patch, the latter of which evolved to include an indoor auditorium with games and a bouncy castle.
Fantasy Farms holds both attractions in its mostly steel greenhouses but 2016 changes to ALR rules prevented existing buildings from being used for non-farm events. Instead, farms are now permitted to hold up to ten non-farm events per year – under a tent only.
Moran says a tent is not safe in any type of winds so he and his wife decided to apply to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) with a proposal for Fantasy Farms’ greenhouses to be grandfathered for non-farm use events.
The couple first filled out an application with the city of Chilliwack for consideration by its Agricultural & Rural Advisory Committee. A July 2018 city staff report recommended the Morans’ application for non-farm use in the ALR for seasonal and special events outdoors and within permanent buildings be forwarded to the ALR with support.
But in an April 2019 decision, the Morans’ application was denied by the ALC.
“One single word, refused as applied for, and that was it,” said Moran.
Moran says the city of Chilliwack recently notified him that it had received a complaint about his farm being non-compliant, and advised him not to build its annual Christmas event.
He claims enforcement officers are willing to give him a break on penalties for the Halloween attractions already underway — but says fines up of to $5,000 per day for non-compliance will start Nov. 1.
“This could be the final year of Reapers as we know it,” said Moran.
Fantasy Farms is not alone in its fight.
Last month, a Vancouver Island farm was forced to close its restaurant after a long battle with bureaucracy.
The owners of the Rusted Rake were told their farm-to-table eatery didn’t meet ALR rules. Farm businesses which produce alcohol are able to serve food so the owners of the Nanoose Bay staple spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on brewery equipment — only to have their applications for brewery and non-farm restaurant use denied by the ALC.
In a statement to Global News, B.C.’s agriculture ministry said “government is currently considering whether changes are needed to the old rules to better support producers, while continuing to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve.”
A two month public consultation on farming and protecting farmland in B.C. is accepting feedback from residents and stakeholders until Nov. 15.
Its focus includes how government can best support farmers and ranchers in the ALR to expand and diversify their businesses.
Fantasy Farms says the ALC chair is now reviewing their previously denied application.
Moran hopes there will be a way to relax the “unrealistic regulations” in order to allow the labour of love his family built up over 26 years to continue for the next generation.
“Small lot agriculture is as important to B.C. farming as any other farming in B.C.,” he said.
“We’re the ambassadors of farming because we allow people to come on our farms and we embrace that.”