They came by the hundreds.
Earlier this month, about 2,000 people descended on the Foster’s Farm in North Grower (about 45 minutes outside of Ottawa) for a breakfast event put on by Farm and Food Care Ontario.
The goal was simple. Invite the community, particularly folks and families from the city, out to a farm to learn about the agriculture sector.
That is, of course, after they’d stuffed their faces with the delicacies of a big ol’ farm breakfast complete with scrambled eggs, pancakes and chicken bacon, all drowned in maple syrup.
It’s safe to say many came for the pancakes and stayed for the farm.
The Fosters run an operation big by eastern Ontario standards. The family farms about 9,000 acres, which includes a grain elevator. In addition to the grain side of the operation, the family has a 4,000 head feedlot.
On Sept. 8, visitors were invited to explore all parts of the operation: the barn, the elevators, climb into the cabs of a combine, planter and sprayer. Nearby, members of the family, now six generations on the farm, were available to answer questions.
The experience extended past the Fosters’ farm. Folks from all sectors (dairy, eggs, chicken, beef, grains and oilseeds) were on site with hands-on activities at the ready — including a chance to hold a baby pullet, play in a bin of corn kernels and see a chicken up close.
Events like these have become more popular in recent years as the agriculture industry tries to bridge the ever-widening gap between the country and the city.
Open Farm Days, breakfasts on the farms and other farm tours try to get people to reconnect with where their food comes from.
Public trust is just one of the buzz words. Social licence is another. Consumers wield a significant amount of clout in decisions made about the sector — even though many of them still hold a romanticized view of Canada’s agriculture industry.
In the eyes of consumers, the words “agriculture” and “business” aren’t linked. It’s a lifestyle, one that can be foreign to those around them.
But agriculture is a business. A big one. Farming, food processing and the other industries linked to the sector are huge contributors to this country’s economy. Thousands of jobs at home and abroad are tied to the sector.
People in the sector appreciate those facts, but the statistics don’t always resonate with people outside the industry.
On Sept. 8, it was apparent people were starting to make those connections. Several visitors were overheard remarking on the sheer size of the equipment, which, given a lot of it is earmarked for crops like corn, towers over the yard.
More than a few parents couldn’t get over the fact that the wheels on the equipment were two or three times taller than the height of their small children.
A large collection of steel grain bins, a common sight across the Prairies, jutted across the skyline, glistening as the sun hit their sides.
People were also notably curious. All kinds of questions were asked. Some were basic, such as, “why are some eggs brown and some eggs white?” or “what’s the difference between a heifer and a steer?”
Others were more detailed, with questions about feed, farm management and various policy issues.
Friendships were made. Understandings were established. Everybody learned something, regardless if they were from the city or the country. For a moment, the gulf between the city and the country shrunk.
It’s amazing what the lure of pancakes can do.