“We try to incorporate education through everything that we do, whether it’s a school program, educating farmers on a new process, or educating consumers on a food product”
Northlands is well known to both city and country folks as an event facility, but it’s not so well known that it’s the largest agricultural society in Canada. At 129 years of age, The Northlands Agricultural Society is older than the city of Edmonton where it’s located.
The volunteer-driven, non-profit society brings in other events to raise its revenue, but a recent strategy focuses on showcasing cattle and equine events, along with food and value-added products, the environment and technology.
These components are the core of every event produced at Northlands, says Paul Lucas, director of the agriculture and food division. The Northlands group produces about 40 agricultural events each year with a team of nine employees, plus additional staff who help out during FarmFair International. About 300 volunteers serve on various committees and hundreds of agricultural volunteers help with the events during the year.
The most well-known Northlands event is FarmFair International, which is held every November at the same time as the Canadian Finals Rodeo. FarmFair, which will run from November 6-15 in 2009, is primarily a livestock show, attracting about 100,000 people each year.
This year’s FarmFair will include several new components. Horsepower, a fall equine event, has now been combined with FarmFair. New equine programming during FarmFair will include the Canadian Snafflebit Futurity and Northlands Team Roping. The Canada’s Greatest Horseman Competition will also be part of FarmFair this year.
November 9 will be 4-H family day, with events and programming geared to all family members involved with 4-H. The entire event will have a casino theme, just to add to the excitement and entertainment.
RODEO FOCUS THIS YEAR
The Heritage Ranch Rodeo competition will be held the weekend before the Canadian Finals Rodeo. The rodeo, now in its fifth year, is targeted to ranch teams, who compete in an old-style rodeo. “There’s a very specific criteria as to how they can apply and be part of the Heritage Ranch Rodeo,” says Lucas.
The 16 teams who compete in this event represent many of the oldest ranches from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Teams must consist of ranch employees and compete under the ranch brand. Competitions include events such as team branding, doctoring, sorting, wild cow milking and saddle bronc riding. “It’s proved to us to be a good link between the equine and the cattle communities as well,” says agriculture events manager Jennifer Annett.
Recent additions to the Northlands roster include the Farm and Ranch show, a spring equipment show that began about two years ago. That show incorporates the Alberta Grows food show and the Women in Agriculture speaker series. “We try to incorporate education through everything that we do, whether it’s a school program, educating farmers on a new process, or educating consumers on a food product,” says Annett.
RURAL AND URBAN EDUCATION
In addition to these two major events, Northlands also runs three smaller events. AMAZE-ing Agriculture is targeted to urban and rural schools and brought in about 4,000 students last year. “There’s a misconception that if you grow up in a rural community that you understand agriculture,” said Annett.
Promoting the event to rural school children has allowed Northlands to develop new programming, such as the pen pal project, which connects pen pals from rural and urban schools who then meet at AMAZE-ing Agriculture.
The planter project is a take-home project for schools. Classes are given a wheelbarrow, soil and seeds. They then take the planters back to their school and grow seeds in the classroom. The planters are then displayed during the Capital Ex show in July.
In the summer, Northlands runs the Funtime Farm in collaboration with Capital Ex. Funtime Farm is targeted specifically for urban children ages two to 10. Participants are invited to go into a grain bin, feed corn to chickens, collect eggs, go to milking barns and get a carton of milk.
“As they go around this experience, with the sheep, the orchard and the planting area, they end up with a whole basketful of commodities,” says Lucas.
The kids then get to take the commodities to a farmers’ market where they are given pretend money which they then take to a grocery store. “It’s been coined as a basic instruction in agricultural economics,” says Annett. This program, which attracted about 45,000 this year, has won a national award from the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions.
In June, Northlands runs the Edmonton Hunter/Jumper show, an equine circuit event and competition that runs for five days. The World Professional Chuckwagon derby takes place on September long weekend each year, leading up to Northlands’ biggest annual event; FarmFair International.
Volunteers are crucial to everything done by Northlands. “We decipher the information they give to us that is relevant to the industry,” says Lucas. “We are the ones who manage the finances and put on the events and make sure that the needs of the industry are taken care of. We’re always looking for new ideas and new projects.”