WELCOME TO THE FARM
MEET THE FAMILIES THAT FEED US ON ALBERTA OPEN FARM DAYS
BY SHEL ZOLKEWICH
More than 120 farms will formally throw open their gates to the public on August 18 and 19 as Alberta Open Farm Days celebrates its sixth year. Vegetable growers, grain and oilseed farmers, ranchers, cheesemakers, beekeepers and more are among the event’s host farmers who will showcase the diversity of the province’s agricultural industry.
“There is a feeling that people are more curious and cognizant of where their food comes from,” said Tim Carson, CEO of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, the group that brings the event to life. Partner organizations in the venture include Agriculture for Life, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, Alberta Culture and Tourism and Travel Alberta.
Carson said the two-day event—which last year saw more than 20,000 people visit participating farms—attracts urban dwellers hungry for a taste of rural life as well as those with farming connections.
“It’s a great opportunity to explore rural areas during a day trip, but with a destination in mind,” he said. “It’s a chance to get off the highway and really explore.”
Participating farms offer activities that allow visitors to literally get their hands dirty. Milking workshops, combine rides and vegetable harvesting are all part of this entertaining and enlightening mix, but even some seriously strenuous farm tasks have proven a hit with guests.
“Several years ago, we had one farm that had just broken land and invited their visitors to pick rocks,” Carson said. “For an hour and a half, one family did just that, and they have returned each year on Open Farm Days to visit.”
For Humphrey and Terry Banack of Gumbo Hills Farm near Camrose, the event coincides with the pea harvest, so visitors will be able to jump on a combine, see the crop being harvested, then take home a bag of farm-fresh peas.
“This really shows the whole field-to-fork process,” Humphrey said.
The Banacks have welcomed about 200 visitors each year during Open Farm Days. They arrange farming equipment in their farmyard as well as displaying crop samples that visitors are asked to match up with photos of the plants that produce them. Younger children can play with a selection of toy tractors in a small swimming pool filled with wheat.
“At the end of the day, people are so excited to learn about how many things we grow and all the products that are made using our crops,” said Terry.
In addition to agricultural activities, displays and demonstrations, Open Farm Days includes a significant culinary component with more than 20 food and beverage events. Some farms host long-table dinners prepared by chefs who employ ingredients grown close by. Day-trippers are also encouraged to include rural restaurants in their travels. These eateries celebrate the event with special menus. As well, agricultural organizations sponsor community club dinners to demonstrate the diversity of Alberta farm products.
Additionally, many farms sell products at the farm gate, so visitors are encouraged to carry cash and shopping bags to stock up on produce such as fresh vegetables, cheese and honey.
“It’s an important economic event,” said Carson. “It’s a tourism experience, too—a day of learning and an opportunity to get some really fresh, local food.”
Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry Oneil Carlier likewise noted the value of event. “Open Farm Days promotes local producers and agri-businesses. It offers Albertans a firsthand look at where and how our food is produced and gives this growing sector an opportunity to showcase the significant contribution it makes to our province.”
General farm admission is free. For details and to map your route or purchase culinary event tickets, visit albertafarmdays.com.