City slickers and urbanites can get a small taste of the rural lifestyle and learn more about where their food comes from on Aug. 13 and 14, thanks to the return of Alberta Open Farm Days.
Put on by the Alberta Association of Ag Societies, Open Farm Days is a province-wide open house that sees over 100 select farms, ranches, and homesteads open their doors to the public for tours and demonstrations. Held every August, 2022 marks the 10th year of the initiative, and approximately 120 farms are set to take part this year – including a few from Rocky View County and area.
“It’s for people to have an understanding about how food is produced in Alberta,” said Open Farm Days marketing coordinator Nicola Doherty.
A self-confessed city clicker, Doherty said she enjoys how Open Farm Days provides those who live in towns or cities the opportunity to get out into the country and learn a bit about agriculture.
“I think it’s really cool when I get to visit a farm and pet a horse or a cow,” she said. “It’s nice to get out of the city and see some animals. The animals are happy to see you and the farmers are happy to talk about their animals, products, or vegetables. They’re very proud of it so it’s a positive experience.”
Some of the more local farms taking part this year include Your Local Ranch Ltd. near Airdrie, Wiseats Mushrooms near Crossfield, Water Valley Hops, Chickadee Hills Farm near Dogpound, and Fallen Timber Meadery, near Water Valley.
Katelynn Carr from Your Local Ranch Ltd. said the family-owned ranch just a few minutes drive northwest of Airdrie will have various farm animals on display, and will also be offering wagon rides and serving homemade hamburgers. Other area businesses will be on site as well, according to Carr, such as Township 27 and Rival Axe Throwing. Meanwhile, the business' meat shop will be open for visitors to check out, including some special Open Farm Days sales.
Carr said she thinks this is the third time Your Local Ranch Ltd. has participated in Open Farm Days.
“I think it’s important everyone gets to experience what farm life is like,” she said. “It lets them know where their food comes from, how much work goes into it, and how much we enjoy doing what we do.”
To mark the event's 10-year milestone, Doherty said organizers have devised both a product and a theme for this year's Open Farm Days. For the theme, Doherty said organizers decided to go with a honeybee and hive celebration, to demonstrate the interdependence of Alberta's agricultural community.
“Talking about farming and community involvement, it occurred to us that farming really is like a hive,” she said. “Farmers really rely on other farmers and the consumers obviously rely on the farmers for food. All these pieces working together is very similar to how a hive works.”
The product, meanwhile, is called honey floss, and was created using Alberta-produced honey and sugar beets. The recipe is listed on the Open Farm Days website, Doherty added.
Like many community events, Open Farm Days suffered negative impacts during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the event still went ahead in 2020 and 2021, it was with a drop in participation from the years immediately prior.
Now back to pre-pandemic levels in terms of how many farms are taking part, Doherty said this year's Open Farm Days is bound to excite and educate.
“It’s a nice increase as people feel more comfortable opening up,” she said. “The farms are volunteering their time and space and they feel more comfortable opening their properties to people.”
For those who have never toured a farm before, Doherty has a few tips. For instance, she said it's a good idea to bring cash if you are interested in purchasing any of a farm's products, as most operations are on private properties and many will likely not have a debit machine on site.
Another tip is to bring a cooler to keep any purchased goods cold, such as vegetables or beef.
Of course, dressing in farm-appropriate attire is important, and Doherty said Open Farm Days encourages families to not bring their pets if they are visiting a farm – especially one that houses livestock or large animals.
“Your high heels are not a great idea on a farm,” she said. “If it’s raining, maybe bring your rubber boots.”
To plan your Open Farm Days experience, visit albertaopenfarmdays.ca and click on the 'Visit a farm' tab. From there, you can filter through based on geography and farm type.