New Agriculture Land Commission regulations could bring filming of the Hallmark TV show When Calls The Heart to a grinding halt.
The hit TV series — which has its temporary 1910-mining town film set located on the MacInnes farm in northeast Langley — is subject to a change in policy that restricts filming on property in the Agricultural Land Reserve to 10 non-sequential days per year.
The show currently films five days a week for five months of the year, from August to December.
To appease the new rules, the MacInnes family is applying to the ALC for non-farm status for 10 years on the portion of property used for filming. As part of that application, the family came to Township council on Sept. 11 seeking zoning approval, which council unanimously granted.
As Mel and Kevin MacInnes told council, about three per cent of their 95-acre farm is used for filming; another 76 per cent is used for farming. The two practices work hand-in-hand, as the revenue they generate from filming is used to fund their agricultural operations.
Mel said she has worked a different job at night while farming during the day to supplement their income. “We had to do that. And we also learned what we wanted to do with this property and we had to make a decision as new farmers whether we actually wanted to pursue this dream or not, because it’s not an easy thing to do,” she told council. “So we made the decision that we were going to move forward, and we’ve (jumped) two feet in. So that’s (why) we were holding back, because we were a bit worried about the amount of time it takes to farm and the stress of farming.”
Mel said they currently sell eggs, honey and organic vegetables from their farm, and also did a trial hops field for Vancouver-based company Faculty Brewing. In their business plan, however, they plan to diversify into five different crops: hops, honey, barley, hazelnut, cottonwood and apple trees.
The family assured council that filming, which has taken place on their property since 2005, does not impact agriculture. The 13 temporary buildings for the When Call The Heart set are on a skid system and do not disturb the soil below, Kevin said, and care is taken to lay down plywood when driving transport vehicles and cast. They have completed a reclamation plan report, which outlines how the portion of land currently used for filming will be made suitable for agricultural purposes after filming is complete.
The family said they also have support from their 10 immediate neighbours, including nearby Thunderbird Show Park.
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Mayor Jack Froese noted that the latest census shows that in Langley, 48 per cent of farmers rely on income off-farm to supplement agriculture.
“It sounds like a pretty exciting adventure and I can relate working nights off farm and working on the farm during the day,” he said. “And you can only do that when you’re young, I can tell you that. Good for you.”
Coun. Kim Richter said she admires their entrepreneurial spirit, but says council has received complaints before from home owners in other areas of the Township claiming the number of film days is allocated inequitably.
“I think this is a very creative way to encourage young farmers to get into farming. And we know from some reports that have come to us lately how we’re losing young farmers, so this is a good way to encourage young farmers and I’m supportive of it from that perspective,” she said.
“… If we were to approve this, would that mean that other filming properties would get less filming days? Or are they as eligible as this property is to apply for three and five month filming permits?”
Township CAO Mark Bakken replied that as long as their neighbours are in support, there is no rationing of film days.
Richter also asked how the property tax would work with part of the land used for agriculture, and the other used for film. Bakken said that is something the BC Assessment Authority would regulate.
Coun. Petrina Arnason asked why a more formal policy isn’t in place to address applications like this.
“I’m quite taken with this, actually. Particularly after the presentation that was given about … the novel way that this has been worked out and to enhance the actual farm use,” she said.
“… Is there any opportunity — I have a sense that this would be coming up more often given the agricultural land commission and the changes — and so rather than just having an ad hoc kind of process where we’re viewing these individually, if there might be an opportunity for us to have more of a formal policy having to do with this?”
Bakken replied that the land commission is using a parcel-by-parcel approach where each non-farm use has to be considered on an application-by-application basis. Previously, the Township has looked at these more from a community planning and impact approach, he said.
“That overall higher overarching approach is not the approach of today, unfortunately,” Bakken said. “… At this point our recommendation to them will be that we find a more holistic approach, but this is the only tool that they’re using at this point to deal with these filming activities.”