Alberta Farm Days encourages producer education

Farmers are encouraged to participate in this summer’s ag-tourism showcase to share their passion for the industry.

One of the many benefits that come from this interactive experience is an increase in sales as well as an opportunity to educate the public on where and how their food is produced in Canada.

Now entering its seventh year, Alberta Open Farm Days features open houses, culinary events and tours.

Farm sales in 2018 reached almost $190,000 over the two days, up 30 per cent from the year before.

For Lazy Bee Farms in Irma, Ab., the business echoed that success in sales in part with the provincial event.

The Honey Bee Farm became operational in 2004 by brothers Bevan, Kent and Trevor Ford after they helped their uncle start his own bee farm which sparked their interest.

It acted as a way to diversify the farm from beef cattle and grain. In 2012, their excess product was put to good use as each of the brother’s wives began Simply Bee, a branch of the company that specializes in natural ingredient products and beeswax production.

Jennifer, Tanya, and Meeghan Ford started this venture by making beeswax candles and lip balm which has since expanded into other products like soap and body products.

“It’s great because the wax is something they don’t use obviously but I mean they can sell it but we thought we could incorporate that and make something from it too,” said Jennifer Ford.

Approximately four years ago, the Ford brothers built a new shop for their operation, which the ladies requested a space for their portion of the business.

“Prior to that we were making soap in my sister-in-law’s house and beeswax candles in my house so we had a small area in there where we make our products and then we have a small storefront in there too,” said Jennifer. “We have people who call us by appointment to come and look. For Open Farm Days, for instance, we have that storefront there so people can buy products when they are visiting the farm.”

Bevan Ford explains the extractor to attendees during Alberta Open Farm Days held last year. Photo courtesy of Tanya Ford

The farm got involved in Open Farm Days after a neighbouring farm approached them to also apply so that more people would visit the area.

“We actually had great success that year. I think for the last three years that we have done it we have had like 200 to 250 people come out which I think is a really good number in our area.”

Advertising both online and locally were the key to gaining traction. “We found it’s a good way for exposure for us but we also find that it’s a good way for us to give back to our community too. We do have locals come but every year we seem to have people come from farther away too which is nice,” said Jennifer.

Throughout the day, employees give tours of the honey making facility including the extractor, storage areas, and hot room.

Visitors can experience a presentation led by Kent who gives insight on bees and what happens in the yard from maintaining the hives to gathering the honey as well.

“I think they take a lot away, Kent’s presentation especially,” Jennifer continued. “A lot of people may not want to visit a bee yard for the obvious reason they might get stung but the video footage puts you right there and shows you the process. He knows a lot not only the process but the life cycle of a bee and what they do so I think that they learn a lot through that presentation.”

Open Farm Days connects urban and rural Albertans and supports rural communities.

It features farm to table culinary events and free admission to farm tours throughout the weekend. The weekend’s selection of experiences also helps showcase the growing number of opportunities available to rural and culinary tourism entrepreneurs.

There is a wide range of farms and ranches participating, such as: Alpaca, sheep, llama, goat, and poultry farms; Bison and cattle ranches; Breweries, distilleries, wineries and meaderies; Corn mazes; Guest ranches and bed and breakfasts; Honey, fruit, vegetable, grain and u-pick farms; Organic operations; Stables and petting zoos.

“It’s good because it’s a good way for us to partner up with the province to give exposure to what we do and the importance of farming,” said Jennifer Ford.

Participating hosts can access product development supports such as business coaching, industry learning opportunities and regional networks.

The deadline for host applications is May 31.

Applications are open for farms and ranches to host visitors during this year’s Open Farm Days from Aug. 17 to 18, 2019.

Last year, a record number of participating farms, ranches and visitors set a new high for on-farm sales.

The overall year-over-year growth of Open Farm Days highlights ag-tourism’s continued potential to diversify the economy and create jobs.

The weekend’s selection of experiences also helps showcase the growing number of opportunities available to rural and culinary tourism entrepreneurs.

Open Farm Days is a collaborative project presented by the Government of Alberta, the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, Travel Alberta and participating farms, ranches, hosts and agricultural societies.

The vast majority of Albertans (87 per cent) have participated in some form of farm-to-fork tourism in 2018. The most commonly attended activities are dining at a restaurant serving Alberta ingredients (71 per cent), attending a farmer’s market (56 per cent) and farm retail purchasing (40 per cent).

More information can be found on the Alberta Open Farm Days website at https://albertafarmdays.ca.

 

Terri Huxley

ECA Review

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