Residents of Airdrie and Rocky View County (RVC) can learn more about where their food comes from while supporting Alberta agriculture producers during Open Farm Days.
This year, 80 host farms across the province will take part in the two-day initiative Aug. 15 and 16. During Open Farm Days, producers across the province give free tours of their farms, ranches and homesteads to members of the public.
“[Open Farm Days] is a place for local farmers to open their doors and invite in both their rural and urban neighbours to see how food is made, meet the farmers that produce the food and get a little bit of agriculture education,” said Nicola Doherty, marketing co-ordinator for the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies.
“A lot of times, people are so removed from farms that they don’t know how things are made, and it gives people a little bit more of an understanding of what agriculture is about in Alberta.”
According to the Alberta government, Open Farm Days has seen nearly 125,000 people visit Alberta farms since 2013, injecting nearly $900,000 into the rural economy through on-farm sales.
While there are no participating locations in Airdrie's immediate vicinity and only one RVC location taking part this year – Providence Lane Homestead, a permaculture operation northwest of Cochrane – residents of the city and county can drive north to visit farms in Mountain View County like Shirley’s Greenhouse or Riser Seeds Ltd. in the Didsbury area. Other nearby locations include Water Valley Hops, south of Cremona, or Custom Woolen Mills Ltd., east of Carstairs.
Doherty said visitors will come away from Open Farm Days with a newfound appreciation for the different types of agriculture in Alberta and the hard work that goes into the province’s food production.
“Not everything is big – there are small farms that still contribute to our food sources and our economy,” she said. “Myself, I didn’t know a whole lot about farming before getting involved in Open Farm Days. For me, it was a big eye-opener about how much work goes into it.
“Obviously, seeing how things are done, seeing the animals and that kind of stuff – getting out of the city and going for a drive, it’s always great to do that.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tours will look slightly different this year, Doherty said. With gathering restrictions in effect and space limitations, she said tours will be limited to 100 people, and a new online booking system for pre-timed entry has been set up – via Farmzy.ca – to enforce this capacity.
She added farms will follow public health orders by implementing physical distancing measures and setting up sanitization stations to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“Participants are asked to be mindful of social distancing and wear a mask if farms are asking them to,” she said.
Bus tours will not be offered this year, Doherty said, meaning attendees will have to use their own transportation.
Another omission will be group meals. As an alternative, Doherty said some farms will allow visitors to have picnics on their properties.
For first-time visitors, Doherty recommended wearing sturdy shoes and dressing for the weather. She added participants should also make sure to bring cash, as many farms will be selling their wares on-site but might not be able to accommodate a debit or credit card.
While the number of farms participating has decreased by half compared to last year, Doherty said there will still be plenty of options to choose from.
“Some of the farms that are participating are not necessarily traditional agriculture,” she said. “We have a couple of homesteads and permacultures that are participating this year as well.”
One example is RVC's Providence Lane Homestead. Co-owner Tara Klager said the homestead's tour will showcase its herd of alpacas and Border Leicester sheep.
“We have just started our very first breeding group,” Klager said. “We brought in a ram and have five purebred ewes, and that’s where we’ll be starting. It’s a treat to show people this incredible animal – they’re very uncommon in Alberta.”
Klager said her location will also feature fibre-spinning demonstrations, storybook reading for kids and a Q&A session about homesteading and rural life.
More information on Open Farm Days can be found at albertafarmdays.ca.