Pictured: Wedding day at Farmview Event Barn in Berlin, Wisconsin. https://farmview-event-barn.business.site/
UPDATE: The state Senate approved the bill today that would require wedding barns and other private venues to get a liquor license or else get a permit that would allow a limited number of events.
The Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association is asking agribusinesses to contact their state legislators today in support of private farm venues ahead of a possible vote.
The Alcohol Modernization Act — SB332/AB304 — is moving through the state Legislature to update some old rules. It expands opening hours for wineries until midnight. And the bill allows brew pubs to operate as stand-alone retail stores.
But there are other provisions that have the agricultural tourism on high alert. The bill includes some more stringent rules for agricultural venues, such as wedding barns, that WATA argues doesn’t make sense. It requires those venues to have liquor licenses — which may require special zoning — or else get a permit that would only allow six events a year.
WATA Executive Director Sheila Everhart says today, the bill may prematurely go to the full Senate for a vote.
Jean Bahn of Farmview Event Barn in Berlin says if the bill passes as written, she would have to get commercial zoning in order to obtain a liquor license. But since her farm — like many others — is part of an ag land preservation program, commercial zoning is not an option for her.
“I would be restricted to one (event) a month, six a year, and be done,” Bahn explains in a previous interview with Mid-West Farm Report.
She says that event venues, such as hers, are not providing alcohol illegally. These events are private parties like one you’d have at your own home. She adds that the bill doesn’t have a provision allowing Farmview Event Barn to fulfill its contracts. This means, for example, four of five weddings scheduled in June 2024 would need to reschedule.
“And where do all these other brides and families go?” she asks.
But it doesn’t just impact the bride-to-be. Bahn says it would cause immediate economic turmoil for rural Wisconsin. The bill would impact local bakeries, vendors, hotels, caterers… everyone involved in putting on a life celebration.
“Thousands of people across Wisconsin will certainly notice a change when they’re not allowed to hold their private event; when these small rural businesses aren’t getting the business anymore,” she says.
Greg Schauf of Country Reflections in Sparta recently told Mid-West Farm Report the bill as written would classify private land as a public space and take away his ability to keep his Century Farm economically viable.
“I have dedicated my life to this farm,” he says. “My desire is to preserve our family’s heritage along with the rural integrity of the land. Creating a new purpose for this farm helps give me the opportunity to do that.”
WATA opposes AB304/SB332 as written, arguing it needs amended. WATA is asking the Legislature to remove all venue language from these bills and move the bill forward in the best interest of wineries, breweries and distillers.
The association warns that if this bill passes as written, there’s no stopping the targeting of other sectors of agriculture when it comes to private property rights and zoning.
“Please contact your Assembly person and your state Senator and tell them to consider amendments that will make this legislation fair and equitable for private event venues before allowing the bill to pass,” Everhart says. “This tactic to try to ram it and slam it through the legislature is done for one reason – to hide it from the public. Don’t let this happen.”