B.C. hop festival can't get permission to operate, says organizer

Craft beer connoisseurs will not have the chance to sample local brews this September at the annual B.C. Hop Fest in Abbotsford, because festival organizers do not have the green light to hold the event on agricultural land.

The B.C. Hop Company, which has hosted B.C. Hop Fest on its Abbotsford hops farm since 2015, was told by the City of Abbotsford last year the festival did not meet the Agricultural Land Commission's requirements to be considered an "agri-tourism" event.

An email received by CBC News shows correspondence between the city and the ALC on Sept. 21, 2018. In it, the ALC says agri-tourism on a farm means "promoting or marketing farm products produced on the farm" and that no more than 150 people can attend a "gathering for an event" on the the Agricultural Land Reserve. 

An expected 1,100 attendees at the festival, and the fact that many vendors attend who are not selling products produced on the farm, were the reasons cited by the ALC for not approving the event.

'We ran the festival without permits'

Festival organizers were told they would need to submit a "non-farm use" application to the ALC. That application was never filed and festival organizers went ahead with their event on Sept. 29, 2018.

"We were then faced with the option of running the festival despite having that no or not, and we did," said Dwayne Stewart, co-owner of B.C. Hop Company and festival co-founder. "We ran the festival without permits."

But this year, there will be no 2019 festival.

A news release from the B.C. Hop Company said the cancellation is due to "ongoing challenges with provincial and local governments."

Neither the City of Abbotsford or the ALC have received any additional permit or permission inquiries since September 2018.

Alex Mitchell, a spokesperson for the City of Abbotsford, said the city would be happy to provide the festival with an event permit, but first it will need to apply and get approval for a "non-farm use" event from the ALC. 

Jobs in jeopardy

Stewart said the festival cannot "surmount" the issues brought up by the ALC. 

He said the point of the event is to raise the profile of hop farmers and connect craft brewers with hops producers, and if the festival moved from the farm off agricultural land it would "just be another beer festival."

"Ours was unique ... you could experience beer right where it started," said Stewart.

He would like to see the B.C. government do more to support the province's hop farmers, such as offering financial incentives for breweries to buy locally-grown hops.

According to the B.C. Hops Company, there are about 20 hop farmers left in B.C., down from over 30 a year ago. It says, without provincial support, hop farming could disappear.