County sows agri-tourism seeds by organizing tours of local farms


There’s strength in numbers. Farms from across Leduc County have proven that by banding together to create successful ag tours.

“By having the farms close together, there’s a benefit to people being able to visit more than one farm,” said Sharon Faye, the county’s local food co-ordinator.

The tours started as a pilot last year but COVID-19 restrictions made it a challenge.

“This year, we had a lot more flexibility, so we have had about three times more people this time around,” Faye said of the year’s first tour in mid-July. (A second tour, on Aug. 20, will feature about a dozen participating farms.)

The tours are modeled on Alberta Open Farm Days (which are being held Aug. 13-14 this year) but with the idea of ​​having a smaller and more local-focused event. It’s an opportunity to build a stronger farm community and a marketplace for local food and farm products, Faye said.

“There’s a benefit to the farmers too, as well as the public getting a chance to experience farms in the area and what they have to offer and learning a little 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 operation, one with alpacas, a winery and a meadery. The July event saw 260 people register (only 70 were allowed last year because of pandemic restrictions) and based on last year’s data, the event draws folks from Leduc, Edmonton and nearby counties.

And a lot of farmers participated in the tours, said Faye.

“Sometimes we don’t even know what is in our own backyard. If we’re just working on a farm and we know someone is doing something different down the road, this is an opportunity to check them out.”

Visitors, no matter who they are, provide a boost for the host farmers.

“The more the public knows, and they share their enthusiasm, the more that encourages the farmers,” said Faye.

“Sometimes we don’t even know what is in our own backyard. If we’re just working on a farm and we know someone is doing something different down the road, this is an opportunity to check them out.” – Sharon Faye.

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It’s a learning experience for any producer thinking about doing direct sales on their property or creating some sort of on-farm attraction.

“It’s also a chance for farmers to learn more about agri-tourism and how to tackle problems that arise from having people on their farms, including how to plan activities for children and how to designate areas for parking,” said Faye.

“It’s a learning process for everyone. As they get more comfortable with it, it could really grow. Each of these farms are so different and at different stages — agri-tourism is so new for some; for others, they’ve been doing it for years.”

Jolene Hahn of Hahn Family Farms is one of this year’s tour participants.

The family — there are four generations living on the chicken and egg operation — processes about 2,000 birds annually, 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 key attractions for visitors.

“This was our first year for the tours,” Hahn said. “I see a great value in it to understand all the local producers we have here. It’s kind of incredible to know who is all around, and for people to understand where their food is coming from.”

Talking to consumers also gives her a chance to dispel myths about chicken production, she said. For the event, Hahn gives an hour-long tour, explains how the chickens and rabbits are managed, and offers fresh juices and products for purchase. Kids can also play with the rabbits.

“You tour the garden and we have discussions about things that we’ve learned and the trials that we are doing,” she said. “We let people know what’s worked for us and what hasn’t. We show them the older equipment and our potatoes.

“Everybody got to tour around, see what we have, how we are doing things, and see our livestock.”

Being part of the Leduc County tours also gave her a chance to talk to other participating farmers and learn how they operate.

Everything is pretty new for Kealey Rumohr, who started Crisp Acres last year. A U-Pick pumpkin patch is a focus of the operation but Rumohr also has chickens and produce and was able to participate in the summer tour.

“We try to have a bunch of kids’ activities going on, as well as the market store,” she said. “I wanted to get my name out there a bit more. I thought farm tours were a great way to do it because most people don’t know about the farms that could be right next door to them.”

Though the pumpkins were pretty small in mid-July, the pumpkin patches are still a draw.

“What I’ve done with school tours, I take them to two different pumpkin patches, and show them what they are producing and show them the flowers and the different pumpkins I have,” said Rumohr. “There are beautiful places to take pictures. Usually, I have pictures of the actual pumpkins that will come out in .the long run. I also offer a coupon for anyone who wants to come back when the pumpkins are ready for picking.”

Like Hahn, Rumohr said making connections with other producers is part of the appeal.

“It’s so nice that so many farmers are involved in this,” 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 great farms and great products they produce. It’s really nice to work off each other and get ideas and just learn about how other farms do things.”

To sign up for the Aug. 20 farm tour, go to farmzy.ca. Tours are $6 per farm per adult and $2 per child (over age 3).

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