Farm work doesn’t stop when it rains, and neither did the province’s Open Farm Day Sept. 17.
The 14th annual event, run by the Manitoba Association of Agricultural Societies, opened 46 venues on schedule this year despite a rainy, cold forecast in several regions.
“We’ve had excellent feedback from the host sites that were involved,” co-ordinator Wendy Bulloch said. “Some of them were disappointed. I guess I would say a small amount of them were disappointed because of the attendance, but we attribute that to the weather.”
Other locations, however, reported higher-than-average participation.
The Bruce D. Campbell Farm and Food Discovery Centre in Glenlea, a long-standing staple of the program given its proximity to Winnipeg, saw 682 visitors, the centre’s manager, Myrna Grahn, said, up from last year when about 500 made the trip. About 26 volunteers and six staff were needed to handle the influx.
“It definitely is a big deal,” Grahn said. “That’s the highest number of people we’ve ever had here in one day.”
The centre normally draws between 60-70 per day during university or corporate events, 120 per day through summer daycare groups or up to 350 per day during Agriculture in the Classroom’s Amazing Agriculture Adventure.
The centre was a hub for commodity groups like Manitoba Pork, Manitoba Egg Farmers, the Manitoba Canola Growers, Manitoba Beef Producers and the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers during this year’s Open Farm Day, as well as a travelling canola exhibit from the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum in Ottawa.
Piglets were also on display, while dairy cows, laying hens and chicks, a demonstration beehive and tractor tours rounded out the schedule.
“It was actually quite exciting. One sow was farrowing when our guests were here, so they got to see piglets being born,” Grahn said.
To the west, the Farmery Estate Brewery in Neepawa got attention as the only brewery on the schedule while, farther west, Hunter Family Farm drew about 200 visitors, well over the 120 the Rapid City venue welcomed last year.
Attendees drove from nearby Brandon, Ann Hunter said, noting an uptick in ethnic groups looking for a taste of rural Manitoba although more locals from Rapid City and Rivers also attended.
“We also had a busload of international students from Brandon University too,” she said. “They went to Neepawa first to the Farmery Brewery and then they came here.”
Some of the visiting children and adults had never been on a farm before, she added.
“It was a good feeling that you’d given something to people that they didn’t necessarily have access to,” she said. “We take it for granted, living on a farm, but when you stop and think, most people in a town, unless they’ve got relatives (on a farm), just don’t have the opportunity.”
Hunter partly attributed the attendance jump to expanded promotion efforts. She has previously brought brochures to local farmers’ markets, but branched out to schools this year.
Little has changed since the mixed farm first joined Open Farm Day several years ago, the Hunters said, although wagon ride turkey tours were added last year. Horse grooming, sheep shearing, equipment displays all returned to the schedule, as well as the Little Saskatchewan River Conservation District. The farm has typically invited the district to highlight projects and integrate activities like critter dipping.
“It’s sort of showing where agriculture is trying to work with the conservation people, rather than working against each other — trying to find common ground to work with, and we thought that was a good thing to show to the public,” Colin Hunter said.
Kim Dyck of Hundredfold Farms said she was also pleasantly surprised at the day’s turnout.
It was the first year she and her husband have hosted with their alpaca farm near Stephenfield, Man.
“We were actually asked to do it by a neighbour who was also participating for the first year and she tried to get a few farms in the area so that if people came out they’d have a few places to go see,” she said.
About 120 people visited the farm, ranging from Pembina Valley locals to groups from Winnipeg and across the international border into North Dakota.
Attendance was less dense in the north.
Despite being one of the only bison operations on the schedule, normally a draw as both rural and urban residents jump on the chance to get close to the iconic animals, Overby Bison saw only 60 visitors, something Ken Overby attributes to the weather.
It is the fourth year the ranch west of Teulon has put its stock on display, running hour-long tours through the herd.
Questions about the species are common, Overby said, ranging from the breed’s winter hardiness, to hair coats, shedding and grazing habits.
“I do tell them about our rotational grazing program and our bale grazing program in the wintertime and usually go through the life cycle of the bison on our ranch sort of from conception to consumer, and then I talk quite a bit about the grass and how we’re actually harvesting the sun and how bison are very good converters of our natural grass that occurs here on our marginal land,” he said.
Despite the less than record-breaking numbers, Overby said visitors ranged widely in both age and geography, with some driving the hour from Winnipeg.
Both the Hunters and Overby noted several return attendees from last year.
Organizers are still waiting for final visitor estimates, Bulloch said, but noted the wide range of sectors represented this year.
Three sheep farms, a honey farm, a number of orchards or U-pick operations, beef and dairy farms, chicken barns, a range of mixed farms, five museums (including St. Claude’s Manitoba Dairy Museum, which drew 175 visitors to the small town an hour west of Winnipeg), conservation districts and research farms were among the event’s cross-section.
The Manitoba Association of Agricultural Societies ramped up promotion efforts this year, including a concerted push on social media.
The event’s Facebook page boosted advertisements and showcased host sites in the weeks leading up to Open Farm Day, while the site was later used to share pictures, answer questions and distribute news such as schedule changes.
“For us to just manage all the different social media pieces, it’s a little hard, so we just focused on Facebook this year,” Bulloch said. “We wanted to really push Facebook and we were actually quite pleased at the reach.”
The program will likely give more attention to its Twitter account next year, she added.