Strength in numbers. Farms from all over Leduc County have proven this by joining together to create successful farm tours.
“Because the farms are so close together, people can visit more than one farm,” said Sharon Fay, local nutrition coordinator for the county.
Pilot tours began last year, but due to restrictions related to COVID-19, it was difficult.
“We had a lot more flexibility this year, so we had about three times as many people this time,” Fay said of this year’s first tour in mid-July. (About a dozen participating farms will take part in the second round, on August 20.)
The tours are modeled after the Alberta Open Farm Days (held August 13-14 this year), but with the idea of a smaller, more locally-focused event. It’s an opportunity to build a stronger farming community and market for local food and farm products, Fay said.
“It’s also a benefit for the farmers as well as the public, who get a chance to get to know the farms in the area and what they have to offer, and learn a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes.”
There is a wide variety of participating farms: an organic vegetable farm, two different hop farms, a poultry farm, one with alpacas, a winery and a honey farm. 260 people registered for the July event (only 70 were allowed last year due to pandemic restrictions), and based on last year’s numbers, the event draws people from Leduc, Edmonton and neighboring counties.
And many farmers participated in the tours, Fay said.
“Sometimes we don’t even know what’s in our yard. If we’re just working on the farm and we know someone is doing something else in the future, that’s an opportunity to check them out.”
Visitors, whoever they are, provide a boost for farmers.
“The more the public knows about it and shares their enthusiasm, the more it encourages farmers,” Fay said.
This is a useful experience for any grower who is thinking about selling directly in their territory or creating a certain attraction on the farm.
“It’s also a chance for farmers to learn more about agritourism and how to deal with the challenges of having people on their farms, including how to plan activities for children and how to allocate parking spaces,” Fay said.
“This is a learning process for everyone. As they get more comfortable with it, it can really grow. Each of these farms is so different and at different stages — agritourism is so new to some; for others, they’ve been doing it for years.”
Jolene Hahn of Hahn Family Farms is one of the participants in this year’s tour.
The family — four generations of chicken and egg production — processes about 2,000 birds every year and sells chicken and rabbit meat directly to the public along with eggs. They also sell produce, and their large garden and strawberry patch are a major attraction for visitors.
“This was our first year for tours,” Khan said. “I see it as very important for the understanding of all the local producers that are here. It’s kind of incredible to know who’s around and understand where their food comes from.”
Talking to consumers also gives her a chance to dispel myths about chicken production, she said. For the event, Hahn gives a one-hour tour, explains how the chickens and rabbits are cared for, and offers fresh juices and produce for purchase. Children can also play with rabbits.
“You visit the garden and we discuss what we’ve learned and the challenges we’re doing,” she said. “We let people know what we succeeded and what we didn’t. We show them old equipment and our potatoes.
“Everyone should come around and see what we have, how we do things, and see our livestock.”
Participating in the Leduc County tours also gave her the opportunity to interact with other participating farmers and learn how they operate.
It’s all pretty new for Kiley Rumor, who founded Crisp Acres last year. The U-Pick pumpkin patch is the main focus, but Rumohr also has chickens and produce, and was able to participate in the summer tour.
“We’re trying to organize a lot of activities for the kids as well as a shop at the market,” she said. “I wanted my name to be a little bigger. I thought farm tours were a great way to do that, because most people don’t know about farms that might be close to them.”
Although the pumpkins were quite small in mid-July, the pumpkin patches are still eye-catching.
“What I’ve done with the school field trips is I take them to two different pumpkin patches and show them what they’re growing and show them the flowers and the different pumpkins that I have,” Rumore said. “There are good places for photos. I usually have pictures of actual pumpkins that will come out in the long run. I also offer a coupon for those who want to come back when the pumpkins are ready to be picked.”
Like Khan, Rumor said making connections with other producers is part of the appeal.
“It’s so nice that so many farmers are involved,” she said. “We kind of learn from each other and the marketing itself, and work with other farms to get everyone’s name out there.
“Everyone has wonderful farms and wonderful products that they produce. It’s great to work with each other, get ideas and just learn about how other farms are doing.”
To register for the Aug. 20 farm tour, visit farmzy.ca. Tours cost $6 per farm for an adult and $2 for a child (age 3 and older).