Residents of Eastern Ontario hankerin' for some down-home farm visitin' certainly have enjoyed a wide range of possibilities recently.
First, it was the introductory Northumberland Rural Ramble Aug. 28-29 offering a driving tour of more than 30 farms and agribusinesses sponsored by the county federation of agriculture.
Then came the Prescott-Russell Agri-Tour, back for a fourth year. Only this time, it was cloned into a double weekend event Sept. 11-12 and Sept. 18-19.
Finally, the early fall farm touring schedule is rounded out with the fifth annual Renfrew County Rural Ramble Sept. 25-26, not to be confused of course with Northumberland's offering.
This time around, the Renfrew Ramble offers 21 stops featuring educational displays on everything from maple syrup production to honey extraction. Passports cost $5 each for anyone over 12 with revenues used to help defray costs of mounting the event.
This outing, which can be picked up anywhere along the route, stretches from Combermere to Rankin and over to Cobden and the Town of Renfrew.
The two Rambles and Agri-Tour rely upon similar recipes which are a hit with rural residents and urbanites alike: gather as many unusual farming operations as you can, provide an easy to follow map and thumbnail descriptions, and leave the rest up to the hosts and visitors.
There were 17 stops are on the Agri-Tour route covering the full range of more exotic produce and livestock such as quail, squab, pheasant, trout, emus, red deer, wild boar, grapes, organic soybeans and cereals.
Organized by Alfred College and the Prescott-Russell counties government, the tour dates were doubled in response to requests from visitors and participants alike who thought it was too much to jam into one weekend. With crowds of up to 1000 people descending on individual farms, it was felt a two-for-one event would relieve some of the pressure.
Although steady rains have finally come to the east end of the province, organizers have been counting on the hot, drought-like conditions which have plagued the region all summer to help make their weather-dependent events successful.
Organizer Suzanne Lavoie called Agri-Tour a unique occasion to "discover, taste and become familiar with non traditional agricultural products."
"It's a great way to sensitize the public to the importance of farming and, at the same time, to show the know-how, the work and the facilities required to produce quality food."
As dozens of Agri-tourists descended on his family's Russell sheep farm, busy first-time participant Ken Bogden said he was enjoying the experience a lot.
Not only were some meat and wool products being sold right off the farm, but Bogden said the tour provided an opportunity to publicize the fresh lamb market as opposed to frozen imported mutton which most consumers are more familiar with.
Bogden said the possibility exists for Eastern Ontario lamb producers to knock imports off the shelves of major area grocery stores if only enough of them joined together to guarantee supply.
Not far away at Cannamore Orchards, fourth-time participant Claire Taylor was trying to cope with throngs of customers swamping her store. She said Agri-Tour always provides a welcome business boost in an already busy season.