As farm leaders, Humphrey Banack and Kent Erickson are well aware that consumers are increasingly critical about how their food is produced.
So they were expecting tough questions when they put up the ‘Come On In’ sign for this year’s edition of Alberta Open Farm Days.
But that’s not what happened.
“They were amazed at the scale of the equipment, and the variety of products which hit their table that we produce,” said Banack, who is vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
“We got questions like, ‘How do the black seeds become oil?’ And, ‘Why are the peas hard?’ added his wife Terry. “We did not have many of the tough questions we expected. People were generally more concerned about what it was, what it looked like, and how it got there. It was actually refreshing.”
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About half of the 50 or so visitors — who travelled from Camrose, Lacombe, and Edmonton to see the Round Hill operation — rode with Humphrey in the combine while he harvested peas. Then they got to scoop out and take home a bag of peas they ‘helped’ harvest along with information on how to use them.
It was Erickson’s first time in the August event and he wasn’t sure if he’d get visitors to his farm near Irma in eastern Alberta. But five groups turned up — including two young couples who made the nearly 200-kilometre-long trip from Sherwood Park, stopping along the way to visit a feedlot, dairy, and winery.
“They were really engaged, and we learned a lot from them,” said Erickson, chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission. “I thought, ‘Why would anyone want to come to a boring old conventional grain farm?’
“But really, why not? We take things for granted.”
Most of the 70-plus families who welcomed the public to their operation are engaged in direct marketing or agri-tourism, but there are a handful of conventional producers.
Among them, for the second time, were Barry and Simone Reese, who are purebred Charolais breeders. Although he wasn’t expecting any visitors to take home stock, it’s an important day on their mixed farm for several reasons, said Barry.
“The first one is helping with the awareness that your food doesn’t come from the grocery store,” he said. “Visitors are also surprised at the investment and the technology that is used to get their food from the farm to the processor. It is also great for our kids. They get an opportunity to meet some of our (end) customers.”
Son Parker, 11, thrived on the opportunity to share his passion for farming and led a wagon tour to help guests learn about the farm. And it was a busy day, with close to 85 visitors to the Didsbury operation, many of them recent immigrants to Canada.
“We learn a lot from them about how different countries farm and what they grow,” said Barry.
They were asked about hot-button issues such as GMOs and hormone-free meat, but most wanted to know more basic things, such as how machinery worked, and what they fed the cattle.
“We get to show we are good stewards of agriculture,” he said.
The Stamp family also wanted to connect with the people who ultimately buy the food made from the crops grown from their pedigreed seed, said Richard Stamp.
And he, too, found people were deeply curious about basic things.
“People were amazed at the record-keeping involved in pedigreed seed production, and the technology,” said Stamp, who can use his phone to program irrigation pivots.
It’s great to get those sorts of questions because it’s an opportunity to talk about today’s agriculture, he added.
“We want to show that we have well-educated young people involved on the farm, and the next generation needs to make a good living, no different than anybody else,” said Stamp. “We need to be open to the general public. We’re open to scrutiny about anything, and always will be. We don’t do anything different now than we do on any regular day.”
It’s good for their family to get to talk about what they do, he added.
“Our grandkids were the most excited to tell people. My nine-year-old granddaughter knows all the crops and could talk about them.”
That was a highlight for Erickson, too, who was joined by his parents, Mel and Laurie Anne, and wife Tausha in welcoming visitors.
“It was interesting, because Dad and I are business partners together, but at different stages in life. So we were able to give different perspectives on the future of agriculture,” he said.
“Tausha and Mom talked about the benefits of raising children on the farm and having the kids spend time with us and (special times) like meals in the field.”
Reaching out to consumers is “the biggest thing” for Humphrey Banack.
“The consumer is the person deciding to buy the product or not, so understanding their thoughts and opinions is important, the same as in any business,” he said. “It gives us some food for thought as well.”