While there were not many opportunities close to Bashaw this time around, the annual Alberta Open Farm Days event saw the biggest numbers to date in 2017.
The fifth edition — Aug. 19 and 20 — broke records in visitors, host farms and sales as the event designed to showcase the province’s agricultural operations continues to gain popularity.
“Open Farm Days gets bigger and better every year with more visitors discovering and supporting our rural producers,” stated Ricardo Miranda, Alberta’s minister of Culture and Tourism.
“From historical experiences spanning the Middle Ages to the Old West, family-friendly petting zoos and corn mazes, livestock and vegetable farms, along with breweries, meaderies, wineries and distilleries, there was truly something for everyone. The great response demonstrates the continued potential of agri-tourism.”
Data released last week by the provincial government showed that the 101 host farms and ranches — up 10 per cent from 2016 — saw a 13 per cent jump, just over 20,100, in the number of visits. Overall product sales from those operations shot up 10 per cent from 2017 to more than $146,000.
Some of the year-over-year increases were a result of the event taking up the entire weekend instead of being run on a single Sunday. The government made the move due to demands from the public to make it easier for more to experience the variety of events, from on-farm visits to culinary events.
“The success of Open Farm Days is due in large part to the hard work of our farmers and ranchers who produce world-class products that are a source of pride for our province. The strong support of Albertans for this event that showcases the incredible potential of our sector in diversifying our economy has been truly remarkable,” stated Oneil Carlier, Alberta minister of Agriculture and Forestry.
Miranda also noted the wide range of opportunities offered showed the importance and vitality agriculture plays in the province while showing off the growth entrepreneurs may find available to them to further participate in tourism.
In addition to the weekend, operators participating in Open Farm Days have access to various product development supports including business coaching, industry learning opportunities and networking. These types of activities can help push forward farm-to-fork tourism, meaning operations can become more of a year-round opportunity.
To further make that point, the province released some statistics (derived from the 2017 survey of Albertans) that show there is room to generate more tourism revenue.
According to the survey, nearly 88 per cent of Albertans took part in some form of farm-to-fork tourism in the previous 12 months. The most common activities noted were — dining in a restaurant serving Alberta ingredients (74.6 per cent), going to a farmers market (57.2) and buying product at a retail farm operation (41.5).
This past year, the two ministries — Culture and Tourism along with Agriculture and Forestry — teamed up with Ag for Life, the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, Travel Alberta and participating farms, ranches, hosts and agricultural societies to sponsor the weekend.