Farmers Day a chance to celebrate where our food comes from
By: Chris Standring
Postmedia Content Works
Farmers Day was traditionally a fun break to acknowledge the important and fundamental work of farmers who grow the crops and raise the livestock that fill Alberta grocery baskets.
Photos by: Topher Seguin
If you’re too young to remember when Farmers Day was a bona fide holiday, you can take heart that the spirit of the day lives on in a number of Alberta communities, like Stony Plain, Busby, Mundare and Strathmore, just to name a few.
Having a special day to celebrate agriculture goes back to Alberta’s beginnings. With the province a mere six years old, members of the United Farmers of Alberta voted to establish Farmers Day in 1911, says UFA spokesman Nick Harsulla.
In 1951, the provincial government under Premier Ernest Manning declared the second Friday in June to be Farmers Day and a province-wide school holiday, says Harsulla.
In those days Farmers Day was the social highlight of the season. Baseball diamonds were marked out for the big slo-pitch tournament, and cars and wagons were decorated for the parade. "Better baby" contests were organized, along with three-legged races.
In good years it was a sun-drenched day starting with a pancake breakfast and blankets spread out back of the baseball diamond.
There was plenty of barbecue and homemade cream pies with the first berries of the season. The food was always local, fresh from the farm.
It was intentional, focused fun; a break from the demanding work of farm life.
Though no longer provincially mandated, some communities in Alberta continue to celebrate. In many places the event has faded altogether, says Harsulla. But in 2010, the UFA decided to re-introduce the tradition. “The goal is to make it Alberta-wide once again.”
Though the UFA sponsors some activities, Farmers Day is independently planned in each community. In Stony Plain, for example, it’s jointly organized by the municipality and the Kinsmen Club. It was held June 3-5 this year and has been running there for more than 50 years.
Susan Schafers, of STS farms, is a second-generation egg producer in the Stony Plain area. Her family has farmed there since 1960. Schafer says Farmers Day is a “really big deal” in her community. “It’s a big draw for a small town,” Schafers says. Combined with a parade, rodeo and exhibition, the event draws over 5,000 people daily.
Farming is not an easy life, admits Schafers, and it won’t make you rich. “But it’s important and fundamental work, knowing you’re feeding a lot of people.”
Pork producer Marcel Rupert agrees.
“Farming is essential. People need to know where their food comes from,” Rupert says. A pork producer in the Three Hills area for nearly 20 years, Rupert says he would like to see more people visiting farms to see how food is produced.
“Observing Farmers Day is a step in the right direction.”
One of Schafers' favourite memories of the Stony Plain Farmers Day was being awed by the tractor pulls. These have gone by the way, she says, but there are still arm-wrestling competitions and a heavy horse pull was included this year.
“As kids, we always helped with the pancake breakfast,” Schafers recalls. “It’s been a big deal in my life.”
Farming helped build Alberta’s economy and is what brought many early immigrants to the province.
With more than 50 million acres, Alberta has 32 per cent of Canada’s arable land.
Alberta is Canada’s second-largest agriculture producer, after Ontario. In all measures, from yields per acre to productivity per worker, Alberta stands out as a leader in Canada.
Alberta employs 16 per cent of the nation’s agricultural workers.
The agriculture and agri-food industry contributes over $100 billion annually to Canada's gross domestic product (GDP). (That's more than the national GDP of two-thirds of the world's countries).
Canada is the world’s largest exporter of flaxseed, canola, pulses and durum wheat.
Alberta leads Canada in cattle farming, with 5.9 million head as of 2006, or 40 per cent of the Canadian total.
Alberta harvests the largest area of saskatoon berries in the country, with 1,622 acres in 2011.
Alberta beekeepers have the highest number of honeybee colonies in Canada, more than 40 per cent of the country’s total.
Canada is the fifth largest agricultural exporter in the world, and the agriculture and agri-food industry employs 2.2 million Canadians.
(Sources: Statistics Canada; Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
Farmers Day is officially the second Friday in June. In Stony Plain they celebrate the weekend before the date and draw more than 5,000 people each day.
Photos by: Topher Seguin
Chris Standring is a writer for Postmedia Content Works, a custom content studio that creates, deploys and measures programs for brands