Farmfair looks ahead with new programming

After winning the grand champion Simmental female, Tim Massey right, of New Trend Cattle locks hands with the reserve champion. | Jeremy Simes photo

The purebred cattle show will always be the backbone of the event, says Northlands, but there are other attractions

Farmfair International has begun forging a path to re-invent itself, looking to connect more urban people to the annual livestock show.

Last week’s event, which took place between Nov. 6-10 at the Edmonton Expo Centre, saw new additions, many of which aimed to bring city people through its doors while also better accommodating purebred producers.

The livestock shows will always be the backbone of Farmfair, but the organization believes there’s room to tap into other aspects of the industry, said Jessie Radies, director of agriculture with Northlands.

“It includes things like connecting to the urban population and helping people understand how the industry operates and why it’s so important for Alberta,” she said.

Radies said Northlands learned a lot from 2018, the first year Farmfair went without the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR).

She said the purebred shows are strong enough on their own to anchor the annual event. As for the trade show, it’s still figuring out how to build it.

“It’s something we think will grow over time,” Radies said. “With deliberate development, we can rebuild the event to where it was before the CFR left.”

With CFR now gone, Radies said she believed the organization has an opportunity to re-invent itself.

It’s looking to see how it can better connect to urban people, given the event is located in the middle of Edmonton.

“I think there is a growing interest from urban people to learn about the agriculture industry and where their food comes from,” she said. “Five years ago, I may have not thought there would have been this much interest, but we’ve seen a significant demand for agriculture education programs.”

To address that interest, Northlands has shifted some programming.

For instance, urban chicken collective River City Chickens is offering a course to city hen keepers. Radies said they’ve had to increase capacity for the class due to growing interest.

As well, it’s working with the Alberta Beekeepers Commission to put on a honey show.

“Honey is a huge industry in Alberta and, as we celebrate it, I think it’s an easy way to connect city people with agriculture,” Radies said. “It’s honey, it’s chickens, it’s cattle.”

Another new event is the extreme cowboy competition, which is geared for recreational riders rather than competitive ones.

For 2020, she said Northlands is looking at ways it can bring more food-related concepts to the event. It could mean a small food conference or a food show.

The organization is working with industry partners to build those ideas. It’s been collaborating with them to figure out what is needed.

“We need to make sure Farmfair meets the needs of the industry and that we’ve got partners to help drive that programming,” she said. “We’ve got capacity, industry is here, and we’ve got easy access to that urban population.”

On top of connecting with more city folks, Radies thinks there is an opportunity to offer programming for small farmers and the next generation.

“I don’t know what that will develop into, but we are seeing more conversations about ensuring the success of family farms and small farms,” she said. “We’re going to see how we can support that and what that might look like.”

This year, 1,100 cattle were exhibited, an increase from last year’s figure of 920.

Radies encouraged exhibitors and others in the agriculture industry to let Northlands know of any potential new offerings the organization should undertake.

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