A dairy farm in the Alberni Valley is looking to diversify by stepping into the agri-tourism field.
Shannon Farms has been active in the Alberni Valley since Alvin Shannon and his family settled in the Beaufort area in the 1930s. The family started out growing potatoes and selling them, mostly to logging camps and restaurants. With the profits, the family decided to start a dairy farm and built one of the first milking parlours on Vancouver Island.
Now, more than 80 years later, the family-owned farm is looking to move into agri-tourism with The Cabin at Shannon Farms. The Cabin is a two-bedroom rental located on the farm property. It was previously occupied by a long-term tenant, but was left vacant when the tenant passed away.
That’s where Tanya Shannon comes in. Her background is in business and marketing and she spent a few years working at Murphy Sportfishing Charters in Kyuquot and at the Riverside Lodge in Port Alberni.
“I loved hosting and I loved having new guests over,” said Shannon. “So when we were discussing this space, I said that we should do tourism, because that would be fun.”
Arranging tours on the farm can be difficult, she explained, because the herd is a closed herd in order to prevent the spread of diseases. In a closed herd, cows have no contact with any other livestock or wildlife and visitors are limited. Animals are all bred from within the herd.
“We want to make sure that everybody has not been on another farm, and if they have that their footwear is clean,” said Shannon. “The No. 1 important thing on the farm is the cows.”
The idea behind agri-tourism, said Shannon, is to create more diverse income for farms. It allows visitors to have an authentic rural experience, while also generating extra income for farmers.
“Just in the last five years, I think there’s a real shift of people wanting to learn more about where their food is coming from,” she said.
The Shannons have applied for a temporary use permit from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, which will allow The Cabin to be used as a short-term rental. During a board meeting on April 27, ACRD staff explained that the current draft of the regional district’s updated zoning bylaw follows the Agricultural Land Commission’s (ALC) agri-tourism policy. The new zoning will allow farms (with farm status) in the Agricultural Land Reserve to offer short-term rentals as a way to supplement farm income. This temporary use permit is meant to “bridge the gap” between legislation.
(Shannon, who is a director on the ACRD board, recused herself from the discussion and the vote on April 27).
Agri-tourism is still a relatively new concept, both in the Alberni Valley and in British Columbia. Coleman Meadows Farm, a water buffalo farm on Coleman Road, offers a market every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with water buffalo meats, Gelato, yogurt and cheese. Another Alberni Valley property, Arrowvale Campground and Collins Farm, has been offering agri-tourism accommodations, tours and events for the past 30 years.
Ann and Bob Collins purchased the property in the 1980s, originally running it as a dairy farm.
“We found that it was costing us more money to dairy farm than we could make,” explained Ann Collins.
The property included a gravel area that was zoned for heavy industrial. In the 1990s, the Collins went through the process of rezoning the area to tourist commercial and turned it into a campground.
Since then, the Collins have switched over to producing beef and maple syrup. They also host regular events, such as pumpkin patch rides and wreath-making workshops at Christmas time.
“It’s been really good,” said Ann Collins. “We’ve grown and expanded, and now we’ve got our kids jumping into it. Our whole business revolves around bringing people to the farm. They see the cows grazing in the field, then they can buy the grass-fed beef in our shop.”
Tanya Shannon has similar plans for The Cabin. When it’s not being used for accommodation, Shannon has been hosting markets and workshops. The last market, in March, showcased the farm’s maple syrup, which is branded under the name “Beaufort Barns.” Other products include Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt, which is made using the milk from Shannon Farms.
Shannon started out with three markets in December 2021, leading up to Christmas.
“It seemed like a good time to start,” she said. “It was something to gain exposure for this building, and the end goal of also having accommodations available.”
Under ALC regulations, at least 50 percent of the products at the market must come from Shannon Farms, but several other Beaufort farms have participated in the markets, including Stonehaven Farm, Oak Tree Farm and No Rymer Reason Farm. Visitors can purchase beef, lamb, baking, seedlings, crafts and more. Bamfield Coffee Co. has also made an appearance.
The next market is scheduled for Sunday, May 15 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Cabin at Shannon Farms is located at 8865 Beaver Creek Road.