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Farms open up during pandemic

Open Farm Days encourages careful ag-tourism

Alberta farmers will throw open their barn doors this weekend as they welcome guests for Open Farm Days.

Open Farm Days runs this Aug. 15 and 16 in Alberta. Now in its eighth year, the annual event aims to promote local food and agri-tourism by giving guests a chance to get hands-on and up-close with local farms.

But since “hands-on” and “up-close” are both no-nos during a pandemic, many farmers have had to change up their on-farm activities this year, said Nicola Doherty of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies.

Good Morning Honey near Stony Plain is having guests do drive-bys of their hives instead of suiting up in beekeeper suits, Doherty said as an example, while other sites are cancelling close-contact activities such as wagon rides. Some smaller farms have opted out altogether as they are too small to allow physical distancing. About 80 farms signed up for this year’s event, down considerably from 150 last year.

Still, with all the travel restrictions in place in the world, now is a great time to explore rural Alberta and meet your local farmers, Doherty said.

“Everyone wants to get out of the house,” she said, and Open Farm Days lets you do that while also supporting local businesses.

“This is an opportunity for people to see how agriculture operates in Alberta.”

One big change this year is the requirement for guests to pre-book their visits through albertafarmdays.ca so farms could ensure they stayed below the province’s 100-person cap for outdoor gatherings, Doherty said. While each site has its own safety rules, many are requiring guests to wear face masks. She encouraged guests to stick to their cohort groups on site and to stay at least two metres apart where possible.

A different adventure farm

Prairie Gardens & Adventure Farm is the only farm in Sturgeon County participating in this year’s Open Farm Days.

Owner Tam Andersen said the “adventure” part of her farm basically closed down when the pandemic reached Alberta, and has only recently restarted in the form of u-pick strawberries.

“We’ve been virtually demolished by COVID,” she said, speaking of the ag-tourism side of her business, and some experts are saying it could take up to five years for the sector to recover.

“Now would be a perfect time to come out and support a farm.”

Andersen said public safety was top of mind as she and her staff prepare for this weekend’s guests. She has hand sanitizer stations ready, and encourages guests to wear masks, adding that masks are required for any crop-picking activities.

Andersen said there would not be any hay rides on her farm this year due to the pandemic, nor would there be any panning for gems in the sluice mine. (You can buy a sack of “mine dirt” to search at home, though.) You won’t be able to pet the animals in the petting zoo, either.

“There’s no way to sanitize a goat, unfortunately,” she said.

Other activities are still on in a modified form.

Instead of the usual long-table dinner (where guests eat at one big table), Andersen said she would have a “short-table” event hosted by Chef Kathryn Joel of Get Cooking Edmonton. Guests would be seated at small tables and move between stations to sample a five- to seven-course meal made from local ingredients. She is also offering picnic lunches at the farmers’ market for those who want something lighter.

Andersen said the farm’s corn and sunflower mazes have been redesigned as labyrinths (which consist of one long branchless path) so people won’t cross each other’s paths. Returning mostly unchanged are the farmers' market, u-pick vegetable garden tours, and workshops.

Visit albertafarmdays.ca to book your Open Farm Day visits.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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