Alberta’s agricultural societies, 4-H and Open Farm Days are all gearing up for Alberta’s reopening.
“We are seeing our ag societies start to fire up,” said Tim Carson, executive director of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies.
They are also scrambling a bit as two months ago, there was no indication the province was going to be opening so quickly.
“I think there were a few organizations that were caught off guard in their planning stages,” said Carson. “The thing that I know about our ag societies is that they are incredible at pulling things together and putting a great event on as soon as they are able.”
A lot of the regular programming will be coming back this summer and fall — but with predictable modifications, he said.
“I think we’re going to see the COVID-19 pandemic continue to influence how we manage our events, but it’s all going to be positive.”
He expects that the rodeo series will be beginning very soon.
“There are things that have booked for later in July, August and September, so those kinds of things will go on. We’re going to see some of the fairs and fall events going forward,” he said.
“Our groups have been chomping at the bit to get on the ‘support our community’ bandwagon, and I’m sure they’re working on all of that.”
Leading the way
The pandemic has had many impacts on community groups, but two are “weighing heavy” on ag societies, said Carson.
“The cost of continuing to keep the facilities up and maintaining them and having them for when they are ready to use again has been significant,” he said. “There’s also been a fairly significant challenge in retaining the volunteer core.”
Some volunteers may have moved on to other things.
“That’s going to have some effect on a lot of our organizations on how ready some of them will be, and if they will have all the resources necessary to get to do things once they’re able to,” he said.
Some events won’t take place because they take months of advance planning, and most early events may scale back on the expectation of reduced attendance.
But Carson expects ag societies will lead the way in terms of boosting the confidence of people who are reluctant to mix and mingle at public events.
“I think there is going to be a significant role for our ag societies to play in these events and facilities as they operate across our province,” he said.
And events and gatherings put on by ag societies have a positive influence on the mental health of individuals and communities, he added.
Eyeing a return to normal
Three hundred 4-H clubs which have relied on Zoom during the pandemic will have the summer to gear up again.
“They just finished up their club year or will be finishing up their club year next month,” said Sherry Howey, director of the 4-H Centre and programming.
“With the easing of some restrictions, we are now starting to meet in person, and do some club windups in person, where they get to play games and meet face to face.”
This year, clubs were given an exemption by Alberta Health Services to hold achievement days, and shows and sales have been running since the end of April and will be going on until the end of July.
Howey said leaders have made an amazing contribution. “Our leaders at the club level have gone a terrific job of making sure kids are engaged in whatever projects they are doing,” she said.
4-H Alberta will also be running overnight camps in several regions, and there will also be two family camps run at the 4-H Centre at Battle Lake over the long weekend in July, and the second weekend in August.
“Families are invited to come and stay in the centre,” she said. “We’ll take the kids by the day, and the programmers will come with the kids, or the families can come as a whole.
“That’s something that we’ve been talking about for years, but that’s new to 4-H and we’re going to try it this year.”
Howey is hoping that fall will bring a return to a normal club season.
“I’m sure we will have changed some things in terms of COVID-19 but I’m hoping that things can be a little more normal than they were this year,” she said.
‘Everyone is excited’
Alberta Open Farm Days was held last year, and is once again a go for Aug. 14 -15.
“We’re taking a prudent approach,” said marketing co-ordinator Nicola Doherty.
People will be allowed to visit the farms, but they will still be using a booking system to schedule their visits
“We were able to go ahead last year. We had a way to trace visitors,” said Doherty.
A scheduling platform called Farmsy allows visitors to book their visit and host farmers to know how many people are coming.
For a second summer, long table dinners are out. But there will be picnic foods, food trucks and packaged foods that are COVID-19 friendly at some locations.
“I know everyone is excited for things to be open, but we have to be respectful for the farmers, or those who are hesitant,” said Doherty. “We want to make sure everyone is feeling safe and comfortable, and maybe next year, things like the long table dinner can come back.”
Last year, 77 farms participated — down from the record of 150 set a year earlier — but this August, 120 farms will be welcoming visitors.