Educating consumers about where their food comes from can be a daunting task, but not at Alberta Open Farm Days.
“I think for a lot of people farming was something they wanted to get away from,” said Charlotte Wasylik of Chatsworth Farms, a mixed family business in east-central Alberta.
[PHOTO GALLERY] Farm Open Days: A visit to Chatsworth Farms and Hartell Homestead
“People didn’t want to work hard to put their food on the table. But now people are much more interested. And they care and appreciate the hard work that goes into it, so they want to know more.
His family farm was one of 117 farms to take part in the increasingly popular event, which celebrated its tenth anniversary on August 13-14 with a return to relatively normal times after two years of operating under restrictions strict in the event of a pandemic.
Chatsworth Farms grows grains, pulses and alfalfa as well as cattle, sheep, turkeys, ducks and chickens on over 2,000 acres. He also does virtual farm tours.
“We try to show them as much as possible when they visit,” Wasylik said, adding that more than 250 people have shown up this year.
“We have organized guided tours of the cattle and the farm. We had machine demos, a farmers market and a BBQ with our own beef hot dogs and garden tours.
Hartell Homestead near Longview also took part in farm open days this summer. Started by Nick Shipley as a place where people can really buy local, the operation raises Highland cattle, ducks, chickens and goats, and is open to the public most days.
“When the pandemic hit, we opened our farm to the public and started selling fresh produce, eggs and meat directly from the farm,” Shipley said. “We could have done subscription boxes, but we really wanted the public to have more interaction with their food and know where their food comes from. So we opened our farm and our on-farm store.
Shipley said he was particularly enthusiastic about raising Highland cattle, as the breed seems well suited to the foothills.
“It’s a phenomenal breed,” he said. “Where most cattle like your Angus and Simmental need to eat more at zero degrees, mine don’t take any down to -25°C.
“And the meat is phenomenal. The downside is that it takes three years to get your first paycheque.
Something important is lost when people are disconnected from their food, said Chelsea Anderson of Farm 2 Table of 51 at Sexsmith, another participating farm.
“It doesn’t become valuable, or the value goes down one way or another,” she said.
Farm 2 Table on 51 is a vegetable and flower operation that does deliveries in the Grande Prairie area.
“I think one of my favorite things about dropping off baskets of veggies is getting a text from people saying, ‘Oh my husband ate crunchy kale salad and he didn’t even know it was.’ was kale,” Anderson said.
Schatzy’s Homemade and Homegrown, a small family farm with a store near Barrhead, also took part in the open days. Owner Lindsay Schatz said educating children is necessary when it comes to helping people connect to local food.
“Even people who regularly go out on weekends, I mean they’ve never seen a chicken in real life,” she said. “And so when they see a chicken and they start assembling that’s what ends up on their plate, especially little kids, they say, ‘Is that the chicken we’re eating? Suddenly they make the connection that they are literally eating an animal, and this is what the animal looks like.
Small farms make education more accessible, Schatz said, adding that she encourages people to get to know local farmers. Her area has many small farms, she noted.
“And also, we have a lake right next to us, so we have all these people who live full time in the city, and then they come to the lake and they can visit a farm like ours,” she said. declared. . “And that’s when their eyes are opened to the possibility of buying meat from their local farmer when normally they wouldn’t even think about it.”
Alberta agriculture is extremely diverse, said Tim Carson, CEO of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, adding that Open Farm Days attendees were able to sample a plethora of fresh foods and visit many types farms in the province.
“Everything from alpacas to yaks at this year’s open house,” Carson said. “The other side is rural tourism – the opportunity for people to go out with a destination in mind and a chance to get out and visit our little communities and see our great landscapes and experience things at the level of agritourism.”
There are 291 agricultural societies in Alberta. The biggest is the Calgary Stampede, but a host of others form the heart of their communities, he said. They own and operate more than 700 facilities worth $1.1 billion.
“These fairs, festivals, rodeos, concerts, all of that is happening in these communities and the ability to showcase rural life is a big feather in our hat as a provincial association, and using farm open days for that. is great,” he said. .
The future of Open Farm Days is bright, Carson said. The organization’s vision for the future is to increase the number of farms that can run year-round tourism and education programs, as well as supply products to consumers.
“The thing is, audiences find it extremely fascinating,” he said. “The average Albertan is now two, sometimes three generations away from the farm — very urbanized — and doesn’t quite understand what it takes to put that food on their table. There’s something inherently valuable about getting your hands dirty. »