Urban meets rural at Open Farm Days

Attendance for the annual event in Alberta is expected to exceed last year’s 20,000 visitors; 117 farms participated

Alberta Open Farm Days participants in the Chin and Coaldale areas are dealing with a lot of potatoes this week.

They were able to pick their own free spuds from a field owned by Perry Produce, one of 117 farms across the province that opened their doors in some fashion Aug. 18, Aug. 19 or both so visitors could see the sources of their food.

“It really is a community event to get the city folk out to see the farm. There’s a little bit more of a rural- urban divide these days, so people really enjoy the opportunity to come and see,” Chris Perry, one of the owners of Perry Produce, said as he handed out bags to hundreds of spud-seeking visitors.

“It’s amazing. Families come out and just haven’t seen anything like it, even though they’re driving by it every day.”

Perry said he expected to give away more than 8,000 pounds of potatoes, which were grown on about two acres of land north of Chin. The red Mozart variety is one of his favourites, and visitors clearly liked it, too.

“It’s just a give back, really, and it’s not too much hassle on our side,” he said.

“It’s good. Show people, ‘hey, there’s some potatoes growing right in southern Alberta. What you’re eating from the grocery store is growing right here.’ ”

Tim Carson, chief executive officer of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, one of the sponsors of Open Farm Days, said the number of participating farms was up about 10 percent over last year, and once the tally is done, he anticipates the number of visitors will be higher than last year’s estimated 20,000.

“By all accounts everything went really well. People were out in droves. The weather co-operated, which was terrific, and our host farms provided a memorable experience,” said Carson.

“It’s such a tremendous opportunity for people to go and actually meet those producers and those folks who are in the rural. I can’t say enough about how much our host farms have stepped up to provide that experience for people.”

Back in southern Alberta at Bylsma Farms Inc., visitors could hold baby chicks, snack on chicken and learn more about how broiler chickens are raised.

“I think it’s really nice and really good that we open up the doors from our farms for other people, that they can see how we actually grow the products,” said farm owner Anno Bylsma.

The farm has two large barns that each holds 50,000 chicks. They will be grown to 2.4 kilograms in size and then shipped to Lilydale in Calgary for processing.

Biosecurity was managed by placing clear plexiglass doors over one of the main barn entrances so people could see the three-day-old chicks in the environment in which they are raised.

The Bylsmas went a step further by allowing visitors to see, touch and hold chicks in a separate area of the barn. Outside, visitors could pet goats and rabbits.

At Broek Pork Acres, tour guide Rianne Vanden Broek, daughter of owners Allan and Joanne Vanden Broek, showed visitors the pasture pork operation featuring Berkshire pigs, a heritage breed.

From piglets to mature sows, there were pigs of all ages eating, wallowing and observing the visitors who in turn observed them.

Open Farm Days is sponsored by the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, Alberta Agriculture, Travel Alberta and Alberta Culture and Tourism.

This year 117 farms were listed on the Open Farm Days website, along with 20 culinary events and 10 tours.

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