While we rant and rave about all the negativity on Facebook, if you pay attention, it also affords us each an opportunity to learn something new and perhaps reminds us of something from our pasts which we see as being relevant today. That's exactly what happened to me this morning when someone made a post about Farmers Day, preceded by a caustic 'When we actually meant something to someone' comment. While this fellow may be edging toward the upper end of the age scale, sadly, he has a point. In many ways, it would seem our Province has forgotten what agriculture contributes but, ever the optimist, it doesn't have to be this way. Perhaps, with the growing interest in our food supply chain, now is the time to bring Farmers Day back.
There was a time that agriculture was the 'sacred cow' of Alberta. In the late 1970's, it was replaced by the booming oil and gas industry, a non-renewable resource. Traditionally a provincial holiday, Farmers Day was initiated by United Farmers of Alberta, and celebrated the second Friday in June for more than 50 years. Schools closed and farm families came together to celebrate their industry. It was last observed by many in 1972. In 2010, UFA CoOps across Alberta began to resurrect the Farmers Day tradition but, since then, agriculture has seen massive change. We have lost many of our small cow/calf farmers and operators are getting older virtually as the clock ticks. Considering the state of Alberta's economy, perhaps it time to turn our collective focus once again to a renewable industry that, given a fair chance, through new technology and innovation, can continue to reinvent itself.
Why is agriculture a big deal? It injects more than $100 billion annually into Canada's gross domestic product. . . more than the national GDP of 2/3s of the world's countries! Why is Alberta's agriculture and agri-food sector important? If for no other reason than it continues to feed us as well as our ailing economy:
- with about 32% of Canada's arable land, agriculture accounts for more than 50 million acres in Alberta
- Alberta is Canada's second largest agricultural producer, after Ontario
- Alberta employs 16% of Canada's agricultural workers, accounting for almost 60,000 Albertans last year
- In March, 2016, it was estimated that there were approximately 17,000 available jobs in Alberta's agriculture sector, for passionate and qualified individuals, from laborer to the highly technical
- despite BSE and other challenges, Alberta continues to lead in cattle production, accounting for about 40% of Canada's total numbers of livestock
- Who would guess that Alberta harvests the largest areas of saskatoon berries in the county, about 1,600 acres, and we also have the highest number of honeybee colonies in Canada.
It's hard to deny that agriculture is essential to Alberta's (and Canada's) well-being. And all is not forgotten. Farmers Day continues to thrive in some of our smaller rural communities, at least. Every year, on the second weekend in June, the Busby community hosts an annual Farmers Day. Kicking off with a pancake breakfast, followed by a parade, farmers market, children's games, adult slow pitch tournament and winding up with a wonderful dinner, this event is the perfect opportunity for friends, neighbors and visitors to celebrate. The Village of Holden does something similar. Stony Plain's annual rodeo and exhibition and rolls out as its biggest event of the year!
And, clearly, all is not lost. For the third consecutive year, a province-wide event, Open Farm Days will see farmers and ranchers across the province open their gates to the public this August 20 and 21, 2016. A partnership of number of Provincial government departments, in 2014, Alberta Open Farm Days saw 61 host farms and 17 culinary events, culminating in close to 7,000 visits.
Not from the farm community but looking for opportunities to get involved? Here's a few ideas:
- Perhaps WWOOFing is for you. . . World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I became aware of this organization several years ago but was reminded of it during our recent trip to Tasmania when I was befriended by a young woman who WWOOFed on a farm just outside of Olds, Alberta. Check it out: http://www.wwoof.ca/home
- There are some awesome farmer's markets around the province. Here's where to find one in your area: http://www.albertamarkets.com/
- Alberta Open Farm Days: http://www.albertamarkets.com/
- If you like food, you should love farmers! http://www.tastealberta.ca/
So let's get ourselves out there and support our agricultural community by joining in the celebrations, remembering how wonderful and rewarding agriculture is, not only as a vocation but as a lifestyle.