Hosting weddings on their Sunshine Ranch in Horsefly is something Franz and Silvia Laffer hope they can continue doing.
Since 2011, the Laffers have hosted seven weddings during the summer months each year, and it’s become part of their livelihood, Silvia said.
The Laffers have owned the ranch for 23 years and raise about 100 cattle and some horses. They have a corn maze, a big garden and a health- inspected butcher shop.
“We could go up to 10 weddings a year, but we only do them in the summer because we are using our farm buildings,” Silvia said, noting one of the buildings they use for receptions is a calving barn.
People book up to a year and a half in advance and come from as far away as Vancouver.
At its Friday, April 22 board meeting, the Cariboo Regional District unanimously passed a motion to endorse the application from the Laffers for a non-farm use permit to host weddings and celebrations within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
The board specified their endorsement of the application was subject to the farm buildings being inspected to ensure they are safe for public assemblies.
“The ministry is supportive of agri-tourism, but we are waiting for them to make a decision on things like hosting weddings,” said CRD chair Al Richmond Tuesday.
“We are still waiting to hear how big an operation would have to be before they would have to go for a permit.”
Richmond said non-farm use permits are all about balancing opportunities for ranchers to find new sources of revenue to keep their operations viable.
Silvia said while their application is in the hands of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), she hopes it goes through.
For their ranch bookkeeping, they file the cattle, the butcher shop and the weddings each as separate income, she explained.
“You want to know where you make what. If there’s one corner where you actually lose you would want to cut out,” Silvia said. “Doing weddings is absolutely fabulous because they are all done in the summer when we’re all done calving and they are only on weekends.”
So far the Laffers have not had any of their buildings inspected, but are anticipating if the non-farm use permit is accepted then inspections will become the norm, Silvia said.
CRD Area F director Joan Sorley said the board regularly receives applications from landowners wanting to do something different in the ALR, whether it is subdivide, take parts out or add an allowable use within.
“A few years ago the land commission came up with a classification that said they recognized it’s tougher to make a living off of the land in some areas of the province,” Sorley said.
“The reason for creating zone two was to encourage people to live off the land by giving them more opportunities to do so.”
Regularly the board submits applications with its approval to the ALC, but rarely are they approved, Sorley said.
The Laffers’ application is a model for people to be creative and innovative in order to make a living off the land, she added.
“The issue of weddings in the ALR is controversial, but I think that is because people in the Okanagan and Lower Mainland providing venues for weddings are not really farming,” Sorley said. “The Laffers have a working farm, the buildings that are used for the wedding receptions are actually farm buildings.”
Accompanying their application are dozens of letters of support from Horsefly citizens, Sorley said.
“They are bringing economic activity into Horsefly and Williams Lake because people stay in bed and breakfasts, motels and hotels.”
Silvia said she buys supplies locally to host the weddings and hires out for someone to bake the desserts.
The Laffers have four grown children. Two of them would be interested in working on the ranch in the future if the weddings are part of it, Silvia said.
If the application isn’t accepted then the Laffers may consider selling their three parcels of land when they retire, she noted.
“Students from the Applied Sustainable Ranching program at TRU came to visit our ranch as an example of diversity,” Silvia said. “Unless you have 1,500 or 2,000 acres, you have to be versatile or somebody has go out and work off the ranch, which is what my husband did for eight years.”