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Canstar Community News
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This article was published 17/9/2010 (3616 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Farmers have for years tried to reach out to the non-farming public through "touch the farm" displays at exhibitions and fairs.
The exhibits staffed by real farmers have typically featured live animals in settings that closely resemble what exists in a typical commercial enterprise. They have played a valuable role in opening the dialogue between farmers and urbanites.
But this year, the Manitoba government has launched a campaign to take that "touch the farm" experience one step further by asking farmers to open their gates to people who might like to have a look around on Sunday.
"Entire families will be able to learn about agriculture, see demonstrations, take walking tours, buy local products, enjoy some recreational activities and gain some real hands-on experience," Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Stan Struthers said in a statement.
Whew, that's a lot to pack into one day.
Anyone still interested can download an online brochure on the project from: www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/financial/agribus/pdf/openfarm2010.pdf
Thirty-five farm operations from across Manitoba have put themselves on the self-guided map published by the province.
For dairy farmer Neil Van Ryssel, who'll be serving up milk and cookies from the family's dairy and grain operation east of Winnipeg, the Open Farm Day is an opportunity to explain the reality of modern farming to folks who may hold a nostalgic view.
This year, that reality is anything but romantic. Excess moisture has ruined the family's crops, prompted them to buy in hay for the dairy herd, and made harvesting into a mucky nightmare.
But he's welcoming the chance to host those who manage to find their way to his driveway and he hopes the number of farmers willing to participate will grow. "Too many (non-farmers) have a total disconnect with where their food comes from," Van Ryssel said.
He's not convinced some visitors will be able to find them. One of the disconnects is the difference in how urban and rural people absorb directions. Urbanites go by road names and street numbers; rural residents look for landmarks (turn right at the old red barn on the left).
In another attempt to bridge the gap, the provincial map offers GPS co-ordinates for the farm sites listed.
The Van Ryssel operation is a corporate farm, actually two corporations, with several family members and the herdsman holding ownership stakes.
You won't find any commercial-scale hog farms or poultry operations on the tour -- bio-security protocols make these places off-limits to visitors. But you can have free pork-on-a-bun and see an exhibit on the province's hog industry at Steinbach Corn Maze and Adventures.
On the other end of the scale are smaller, highly diversified operations that are already developing revenue streams around agri-tourism, such as corn mazes, pumpkin patches, petting zoos and trail rides.
These operations are a far cry from the conventional farming operations whose productivity put this province on the map as a global exporter, but they are one of the faces of farming that is increasingly important to the rural Manitoba economy. That makes them as real a farm as any other.
That's especially true in light of data that show the farmers' share of the consumers' food dollar continues to shrink. The results of an annual survey released last week show farmers currently get about 27 per cent of what consumers spend on their groceries.
With up to half of farm families needing some form of external income to stay afloat, agri-tourism provides a means of creating jobs without leaving the farm.
For some lucky souls, Sunday will be capped by a special banquet built around local foods, called Supper from the Field, prepared by chefs and served at the Steinbach Heritage Village. However, the 120 tickets available were sold out by early last week.
Co-ordinator Joy Lorette, a provincial extension worker based in Steinbach, said she could have sold another 90 tickets if she'd had them -- a sign public interest in the event is high. In future years, she's hoping to see similar dinners available in other parts of the province, which would expand their accessibility and provide more profile to agricultural operations further from Winnipeg.
Most attending the Steinbach event plan to spend the early part of their day visiting two to three farms on the tour list -- another indication of the public's growing interest in connecting with agriculture and food.
Lorette says 95 per cent of the dinner tickets went to people from Winnipeg.
"The enthusiasm has just been unreal," she said.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email: email@example.com
Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.
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