Ag societies take the lead on Open Farm Day

The Manitoba Association of Agricultural Societies can help widen scope of farms involved

Open Farm Day Sept. 20 marks the last time Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development will be directly involved co-ordinating the event.

The association representing this province’s 59 agricultural societies will take the helm for future events, and will look after finding host farm families, co-ordinating and promoting what has become a popular one-day trip to the country for tens of thousands of Manitobans since 2010.

“I think this is an excellent fit for MAAS (Manitoba Association of Agricultural Societies),” said its executive director Marlene Baskerville.

Their grassroots association’s members are well positioned to encourage more farms to host visitors and have new ideas about how to include a greater diversity of farms, she said.

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“Between MAFRD and ourselves, we felt that agricultural societies could connect with farming operations in their communities and could really help promote it,” she said.

Open Farm Day was a hit from the start in 2010 when overwhelming numbers of visitors jumped at the opportunity to visit nearly 40 farms hosting visitors that fall.

The one-day event was launched by the Department of Agriculture to help more Manitobans who might otherwise never venture onto a farm, meet farm families, learn how they operate their farms and spure more awareness and interest in agriculture overall.

MAAS has helped provincial staff promote Open Farm Day in 2014 and this year, but after this will take the lead role to co-ordinate and deliver the event.

MAFRD sees a MAAS-led event becoming a stronger event, said MAFRD acting manager of front-line agricultural extension Susan Nicoll, who describes 2015 as a transitional year.

MAFRD also sees agricultural societies helping Open Farm Day better achieve its main objective, which is to raise awareness about the wide diversity of all types of farms in Manitoba, Nicoll said.

Open Farm Day has had no shortage of farm hosts participating, but the predominant type of host farm has been those doing direct-marketing product or with some agri-tourism component as part of their business. Conventional grain farms and larger livestock operations have been notably absent from the yearly lineup.

“We are hoping that MAAS will be able to widen that scope of farms,” said Nicoll, adding it is “an ongoing quest” to get larger conventional grain farms to participate.

Visitors clearly love the smaller sites that offer hands-on activities for children, she said.

“But as a department, and as an agricultural industry, we see Open Farm Day as an opportunity to give information on all kinds of farms. And there’s such a variety out there.”

Nicoll said MAFRD will continue to support Open Farm Day even as MAAS now takes the reins.

“We’re still very interested in Open Farm Day and our staff will help make those connections and help promote it,” she said.

Baskerville said MAAS will talk with members about their new role at their annual convention in Brandon October 24. Members have already started thinking about creative ways to attract more diverse participation from farmers.

Grain farmers can’t be expected to host visitors during harvest, but there could be ways agricultural societies’ members could show visitors a harvest in progress, for instance.

“Perhaps a partnership could be created in the community and maybe the ag society could tour people in a people-mover around the edge of the field,” she said.

“We’ll look at creative partnerships for showcasing some of these things.”

This year approximately 37 farms are lined up to host visitors on September 20.

Wendy Bulloch, who runs a consulting business Building Up has been hired to assume the role of delivering an Open Farm Day in the future.

“I am very excited to be part of this agricultural awareness program promoting agriculture to all Manitobans,” she said.

Bulloch has visited this weekend’s farm hosts and says visitors will receive a very warm welcome on Sunday.

“They’re so welcoming and proud of what they’re doing and wanting to share that with others in Manitoba,” she said.

Open Farm Day is supported by Growing Forward 2 funding for agricultural awareness initiatives and this funding remains available for the next two years.

More information about this Sunday’s event, including maps of host farms, can be found online at the Manitoba Agriculture website.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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