It was a challenge to this province’s small-town fair organizers to start more actively working with other groups when hosting summer fairs.
The idea was that more cooperative ties with other organizations might not only give ag societies a much needed boost, but help other groups too.
The approach seems to be working, a recent fair in south-central Manitoba being a case in point.
The Dufferin Agricultural Society in the Carman area this year linked up with the local chamber of commerce to co-host the ag fair with the business group’s Potato and Blossom Festival.
The two events have historically been held on different weekends, but it’s become evident in recent years that there just wasn’t volunteer energy to muster for multiple events.
Co-joining the two events made sense from many perspectives, according to Dufferin Ag Society president Elaine Owen, who took on the role with the 131-year-old ag society last winter.
By combining their efforts they saw an opportunity to put on a better show for the community – and set the fair on a new course too, said Owen.
“The biggest thing is, we wanted our fair to continue,” she said, adding that the DAS was grown increasingly worried about its volunteer ranks thinning.
“When we partnered with the chamber they had a whole contingent of volunteers different than ours,” she said.
Earlier this month, the two groups hosted a weekend that boasted more entertainment and activities both at the fairgrounds and downtown, a diverse parade, boosted numbers visiting the fair, increased entries in livestock shows and higher traffic in the business district. Free entry to the fair freed up more money for spending in local restaurants and shops, offering a higher return for local businesses’ sponsorship bucks.
They had similar rationale for linking their downtown festival with the ag fair, adds chamber president Cor Lodder.
“We’ve been looking at events we’ve held and what we could do to keep people coming out, and we sort of saw from the sidelines that the Carman fair was having the same challenges. We were seeing a need to give both events a bit of a remake, or a facelift.”
It’s a page out of St. Pierre’s own books, which has a long history of hosting a co-joined event between their agricultural society and the town’s signature Frog Follies Festival.
The two groups have paired up over nearly 40 years to cohost the fair and festival the same weekend.
Things hit a snag three years ago after the ag society found its own volunteers tapped out, and increasingly unhappy with the date of the event, which was always the August long weekend, explains ag society president Roger Robert.
“We were trying to get the farming community to come out and participate in this and we found that the date itself was too close to harvest,” he said. The date also conflicted with other fairs in south-central Manitoba and tired-out volunteers just didn’t want to work on long weekends anymore, he added.
So they struck out on their own, holding the ag fair at an earlier date for the past three years.
They’re back together with the Frog Follies in 2010. They didn’t lose money striking out on their own, but attendance did, Robert said. “It suffered.” They didn’t have the same resources to spend on promotions. “We held
BETTER TOGETHER:The newly combined events promise loads of family fun.
our own little fair,” he said. “We brought in a lot of cheap entertainment.”
It was local businesses who convinced them to reunite with Frog Follies. “They said ‘you guys should really work together. We don’t mind sponsoring, but we’d rather sponsor one event than two.” It was also evident that two events meant competing for volunteers too.
They now look forward to a successful reunited event this coming long weekend, and to holding a fair and festival at an earlier date next year.
The attraction Frog Follies has to a large non-farming public also fits with ag society’s own aim of being able to promote and raise awareness about agriculture, he added.
JUST MAKES SENSE
Creating partnerships between themselves and other organizations is something MAAS has been urging local fair organizers for a long time, said MAAS superintendent Liz Roberts.
“We’ve been promoting that for a long time.”
“If we want our rural communities to be vibrant we can no longer operate in silos,” Roberts said. “Groups have to come together for the betterment of the community. It just makes huge sense.”
It can also make money. In 2009 the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions released a report showing fairs are key contributors to local economies, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional revenues.
Canada’s eight largest fairs generate the most per fair (a combined $368 million), but little fairs are bringing in big money too, the study said. It reported that Canada’s smallest fairs – 759 in total – contributed a combined $596 million to their local economies, or an average of $750,000 per fair. The findings were drawn from a survey of six small fairs considerably larger than Manitoba’s smallest events.
Lodder in Carman said it would certainly be interesting to measure the actual economic impact of hosting a local fair.
“We’ve never done a calculated study of the economic impact, but it’s something we’d like to do,” he said.
Twoyearsago,theManitobaAssociation ofAgriculturalSocietiesadoptedamission statement–toleadinrevitalizingrural communities.
“Whenwepartnered withthechamberthey hadawholecontingent ofvolunteersdifferent thanours.”
– ELAINE OWEN, DUFFERIN AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY PRESIDENT