As they say, ‘The show must go on.’
And that’s how the organizers of Alberta Open Farm Days feel.
“As we got into Stage 2 (of pandemic reopening), we looked at the regulations to see whether it could go ahead. This wasn’t something we took lightly,” said Nicola Doherty, marketing co-ordinator with Alberta Open Farm Days.
The Aug. 15-16 event will, of course, follow provincial guidelines for outdoor events, which include physical distancing measures, having hand sanitizer, and limiting attendees to a maximum of 100 people (including the farm’s family and anyone helping them out).
“We’re taking all the precautions outlined by Alberta Health Services and working with it, and we’ve been in communication back and forth with it,” said Doherty.
The decision to run Open Farm Days this year was made by a panel of advisers from different government ministries, she added.
“There are certain things that have happened in the past that can’t happen this year,” said Doherty.
Hayrides or long-table dinners, which put people in close proximity with each other, won’t be allowed.
“It will look a little different this year because of the measures we need to take because of the guidelines. But we’re still able to go ahead,” she said. “We’re asking farms that are participating to be creative.”
Last year, 150 farms participated in the event. Alberta Open Farm Days staff and volunteers have been in touch with participating farmers since the start of the pandemic, as registration began in January. Some farmers have chosen to participate in this year’s tour, but others are not comfortable, or are unsure about participation, since their tours feature experiences that involve touching surfaces or close proximity.
Some farms will offer virtual tours instead, or may be featured on a blog post or an Instagram takeover.
“There are different ways for farmers to participate in Open Farm Days if they are not comfortable having people come to their farm,” said Doherty.
Organizers are also creating an online registration system, so people will be able to book the time of their farm visit.
“There are some farms, like Good Morning Honey, (a honey farm in Carvel), that had 900 people last year over the weekend,” she said. “We can’t do that this year, so we’re coming up with a registration system as a way to limit people on farms and make it easier for people to manage social distancing.”
Organizers are also working with Alberta Health Services on guidelines for washrooms and an alternative for the long-table dinners.
“We still want to enjoy our farms and our local food, but we will just do it differently,” she said.
“It’s a lot of work for farmers to get ready for Open Farm Days, and organize their volunteers. We hope that in return, they’re able to make money through farm gate sales.”
In some cases, some farms might not offer tours, but might offer an option for city dwellers to drive out and purchase some of their products.
August is already a busy time for farmers and working out a new game plan for Open Farm Days adds to that workload, so participants deserve kudos, she said.
“We’re eternally grateful,” said Doherty. “A lot of our farms are returning farms. They enjoy it, and they enjoy the education piece and talking to consumers.
“Hopefully consumers can buy things when they’re out there as well and learn about local products.”
The extra effort should pay dividends, she added.
“As long as everyone follows the rules and uses the guidelines, I think we are going to have a really successful year.”