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Rural businesses tout tour’s value

Country Cruzin’s fifth year | Businesses open their doors to visitors to gain exposure and sales

BOW ISLAND, Alta. — Terrie Matz is a big fan of Country Cruzin’, an annual tour of agriculture and tourism destinations in southeastern Alberta.

“Just getting your name out is priceless,” said the owner of The Big Garden Centre, one of nine stops Aug. 16 on a self-guided tour of operations in the Bow Island and Medicine Hat region.

Matz admits it’s a lot of work to prepare for the tour. A hailstorm Aug. 14 didn’t help matters.

Her business on the outskirts of Bow Island specializes in bedding plants, shrubs and trees, flowerbeds and numerous planters she had prepared and labelled so visitors could identify the varieties on display.

This year’s event was the fifth annual Country Cruzin’ tour. Shelley Dirk, business development officer with the Economic Development Alliance of Southeastern Alberta, said her group deems it a success in showcasing local farm produce, crop diversity and tourism.

“Comments were very, very positive. I think everybody would like to see it continue. The people that went on the tours were amazed at what they learned and the businesses themselves were very happy with the turnout,” said Dirk a few days after the event.

Participants could visit a greenhouse, sausage business, beef operation, garden centre, art club and berry farm, among other stops.

No official count of participants was taken, said Dirk, but 56 people stopped by County Fresh Farms, where she was stationed, and “they were quite amazed at what they learned about the operations and what’s going on behind the scenes.”

As for producers who opened their farms and businesses to visitors, Dirk said they considered the exposure promising for potential future produce sales.

The self-guided style is also popular, Dirk added.

“There’s time to digest, pardon the pun, what’s actually offered along the tour.”

One of the stops requiring digestion was Erna’s Berry Farm, a U-pick operation that has expanded to in-clude a restaurant.

The nine-acre property is owned and operated by Erna Varekamp, who serves many of her own fruits and vegetables in the restaurant.

Business picked up last year, she said of the operation just off Highway 3 on the road to a provincial park. That prompted her to expand seating on the patio.

The restaurant operates May to September, after which Varekamp helps on the nearby family farm and takes her variety of homemade jams and jellies to craft shows and markets.

“I’m having fun with this, and I can still have the kids around here too. I can combine a family life with this and I still can feed my family too. It all works out pretty well,” Varekamp said while serving customers.

“I don’t get much sleep now, but it will come again. It’s just seasonal, so you just have to do what you can do.”

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