Gravel roads and farm lanes were packed with vehicles last Sunday, as Open Farm Day brought out what might be a record number of visitors in its sixth year.
Just south of Winnipeg, Aurora Farm was literally crawling with visitors of all ages, eager for the opportunity to feed a goat, touch a chicken or learn exactly how apiarists wrangle honey from their bees.
“This is the first time I’ve ever even heard that word, apiarist, so I guess this is a remedial thing for me,” said a laughing Beth Miller, who visited along with her parents. One-time farmers themselves, she said it was a trip down memory lane for the retirees.
For Alison August and her family, visiting the farm has become a yearly event that their daughter Juliette looks forward too.
“She rides the horses and can feed the alpacas, it’s kind of nice for some city-slicker who doesn’t really get this opportunity very often to check it out,” said August. “It has everything and you can interact with the animals.”
Young helpers like Winter Derange and Maeve Partyka were excited to show people around, and let people know what caring for an animal takes.
“I came here for a camp one time and it was just so amazing, I really, really love it here,” said Partyka.
Nearly 40 farms participated this year, including mixed operations like Aurora Farm, vegetable farms, orchards, dairy farms, bison operations and ranches.
The Molinski family of Winnipeg started their Open Farm Day near New Bothwell at Newest Poultry Farms Inc., although it turned out their young sons Milo and Ethan were a little unsure about touching the baby chicks there.
“I don’t think they know what to make of them,” said Michelle Molinski, who valiantly attempted to reassure her sons, even after one chick relieved itself in her outstretched hands.
“I think they are bigger fans of the inflatable bird than the real ones,” she said.
Dad Dusty Molinski said it was important that kids have the opportunity to see where their food comes from, adding that the family no longer had any direct connections to agriculture.
“In the past we did have an uncle who was a beef producer, but he’s not in that business anymore, so usually we don’t have an opportunity to go visit farms,” he said. “So I think days like this are really important to get and actually go on a farm.”
Visitors to the poultry operation weren’t allowed to enter any barns, but were able to observe some broiler chickens through a tinted observation window after donning protective footwear.
Farm owner and operator Jake Wiebe said he was motivated to participate in the province-wide event because of “misperceptions in the industry.”
“We think we have a good-news story to tell about good nutritious local chicken, so that’s what drives us,” he said. “We try to address the issues of antibiotics in feed and animal care, those are probably two key issues. And the window of course kind of speaks for itself, people can look in.”
He said adding the observation window also resolved any biosecurity issues.
While the final numbers for the day have yet to be tallied, Manitoba’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development said it looks like this year is on track to surpass the last.
“We’ve seen increasing numbers of participants and an increasing number of farms taking part,” said Ron Kostyshyn. “From what we’re hearing it was a very large turnout… the Farm and Food Discovery Centre alone reported over 500 people visited.”
Last year about 8,000 people took part in the event.