Organizers of the first Rural Ramble ever to be held in Northumberland County are giving the event top marks and say they'll do it all again next year.
That's the word from Cathy McCann, who for the past few months has had to wear more than one hat. McCann is secretary of the Northumberland Federation of Agriculture, the event's main sponsors. But along with working on the organizing committee since January, she's also been getting her own farm ready as it was one of the operations featured on the tour.
In all there were 25 farms and five so called non-farms, described by McCann as being rural businesses. The route took in Campbellford and Codrington to the east to Campbellcroft in the west; Colborne and Brighton in the south, to Hastings in the north.
"Most farms had between 200 and 400 people," McCann told The AgriNews, adding that her own dairy operation was one of three which attracted about 600. Organizers estimate just under 2,000 visitors took part in the late-August weekend. And while that number fell short of what some had earlier expected, McCann says Rural Ramble 99 was a success all the way around, particularly considering it was a first for Northumberland.
She says farms were asked in advance of the event to organize something "hands on."
In the case of her own operation, McCann says that wasn't difficult. She says the farm is host to the Eastern Ontario Team Penning Association every Sunday anyway. For the Ramble, they simply held the penning over the two days while visitors were passing through looking at the beef and dairy side of the operation. McCann also had a craft tent set up and was able to offer both a petting zoo and sheep demonstration, courtesy of two neighbours who were willing to get involved.
In other cases, entertainment took different forms. For example, says McCann, at a bee operation there was a tour of the honey house; and at one of the non-farms, the Alderville Reserve, a tee pee was on site along with a demonstration of how wild rice is grown.
At a bison farm, visitors were able to take a tour over hilly land in the back of a pick-up truck right to where the animals were grazing.
Visitors were also able to see a trout farm on the route, along with horses, goats, llamas and beef. McCann says there were a total of four dairy operations, from "small purebred to high-tech modern" farms. An old fashioned merry-go round and edible candles were among the attractions in the non-farm category.
The idea behind the ramble, a concept already successful in other counties, is to put the spotlight on agriculture, with a particular eye to attracting urban residents. McCann says already "more than a hundred" evaluations from the day have been received from people who took part, and the consensus seems to be, it was a weekend well spent.
"We think it would be a shame not to do it again, even though it was a lot of work for the farmers involved," says McCann.
"Our goal was to create a better understanding and promote agriculture ... people said they learned so much and had no idea there was such a diversity of agriculture in Northumberland."
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The evaluations posed a number of queries to visitors such as what they liked most about the ramble, how many farms they visited, how far they travelled to participate and was it a reasonable cost. McCann says the farms which drew in the most numbers were clearly those that offered some form of extra entertainment.
She says the $8 passport people bought ahead of time (with free admission for children under 13) contained a map, a brief write-up about farming and outlined what could be expected at each property.
McCann admits organizing the two-day event involved a great deal of work on the part of the federation.
She says they started with no money in the pot back in January and had to search for dollars. Ultimately, they got lucky. Area agri-businesses gave donations along with the municipality, and advertising grants came from Tourism Ontario, the OFA project fund and another federal government program.
She says the ramble also required a lot of work for farmers who acted as hosts. "A lot of them had to hire extra help the week before," says McCann, adding that as many as "15 to 20" extra workers were needed in some cases. On the plus side, however, a lot of the workers came as volunteers from different agencies including beef, pork and dairy. Help for providing food at participating farms also came from local church and women's groups, says McCann.
She says the federation came away with an unexpected profit from the event, and plans to use the money for getting things going next year. This time, she says, rather than starting in January, though., she wants to see organizing meetings begin this November.