‘Reviving’ Regional Ag Federations

The OFA helps federations to connect with local communities.

By Emily Croft

The OFA created the Revive Fund in 2020 to support projects created by regional federations to improve their rural communities.

“The Revive Fund started as a COVID project for us,” says Drew Spoelstra, vice-president of OFA.

“We had some significant savings because we couldn’t have meetings or events or gather as a board in person.”

The fund was created using the saved money as a way for the OFA to continue to give back to their membership.

“We had a few categories – mental health, public trust initiatives, sign campaigns for road safety, education of the public about agriculture, and leadership, training and engagement,” says Spoelstra.

“It started in 2020 with $100,000 to be matched by the counties, which ended up being about a $200,000 total commitment across 51 counties.

“Not all counties joined, but many did, and the money was all spent.”

The fund also led to collaboration between local federations on several projects, building a greater sense of community between regions.

“Many counties jumped on the bandwagon and implemented some great projects. They needed to identify a project in their local area and then fill out a short application form. That was forwarded to the team at OFA, was evaluated based on merit, and was approved by the board,” Spoelstra explains.

County federations designed a variety of projects that educated the public and urban populations about farming, addressed farm safety concerns, and improved their local community.

Better Farming reached out to a few local federations to learn about what projects have been happening and how they have benefited the OFA membership and their surrounding communities.

Perth County: Mystery Farm Hop

The Perth County Federation of Agriculture collaborated with Perth County Tourism and Economic Development, and Perth County Connect, a local public transit service, to host a Mystery Farm Hop in July.

“The idea was to highlight the transit service and also highlight the agritourism and farms that Perth County has to offer,” says Julie McIntosh, a director on the Perth County Federation of Agriculture board.

“It was a mystery, so we kept it a secret where the attendees were going.”

The tour was free, but registration was required to manage numbers. Within 12 hours of starting ticket sales, the farm hop was sold out.

“We had 150 participants get on a bus in Stratford. They stopped at four farms, and they had 45 minutes to an hour to tour around,” says McIntosh.

“They were all agritourism-based farms and all of them had an experience of some form.”

There was a visit to Stonetown Artisan Cheese, with an opportunity to see how cheese is made.

Visitors at an Artisan Cheese Store
    Farm hoppers visit Stonetown Artisan Cheese in Perth County. -Ashley Brockelbank photo

The next stop was Kampkreek Dairy, home to a herd of water buffalo. The dairy farm took the visitors on a wagon ride around the property and shared samples of farm products.

Kampkreek Dairy Tour Wagon
    Ashley Brockelbank photo

The third stop was McCully’s Hill Farm, which has an on-farm store, and the fourth stop was at Black Creek Flower Farm. The tour learned about growing flowers, and they could do a ‘pick-your-own’ flower activity if they chose to.

In addition to the opportunity to share more about the local farms and how food was produced, the tour brought together a diverse group of attendees, largely from urban backgrounds.

“A lot of people came from Kitchener and Stratford, and they were just so impressed with what they saw. It was great for them to be getting out of the city and seeing what Perth County has to offer, and we were making meaningful connections with some of our urban counterparts,” says McIntosh.

The Perth County Federation of Agriculture later received a letter from one of the visitors.

“She was from Milverton, and she wrote about how strong communities are built on inclusivity and diversity,” McIntosh shares.

The letter commended tour organizers for creating an opportunity for cultural exchange and community engagement, while demonstrating the openness, support, and the commonalities of the residents of Perth County.

“We all have a job to educate and share our experiences in agriculture and to help people connect that back to where their food comes from,” says McIntosh.

“The federations have a lot of value to bring to the community. A bunch of our directors were at the farms to answer questions and direct traffic. We were there to field general farming questions and help people through the experience as well.”

McIntosh credits OFA’s support for being able to host this community event.

“I don’t know if we would’ve been able to pull it off without the Revive Fund and partnership with OFA.”

Niagara Region: Road Safety Project

The Niagara Federation of Agriculture applied to the OFA Revive Fund to support their local campaign to improve road safety with radio and sticker advertisements.

The Niagara region is home to many fruit and crop farmers with both big and small equipment, and also attracts a number of tourists, leading to safety concerns for farmers and farm workers who are travelling the roads.

Niagara Region Directors Holding Road Safety Signs
    Niagara Region directors pose with road safety signs. -Derek Funk photo

The stickers, which state “Pass When Safe,” come in a large and a small size to fit a variety of agricultural equipment and vehicles.

While organizing the sticker project, the Niagara federation considered where else in their community they could share the message to improve road safety. After considering different options, the board decided to go with radio ads.

“Depending on the station, these ads are played all day long at stores and dentist offices and other businesses, and they reach people all through the community. Depending how much money you can spend, you can reach a large audience,” says Derek Funk, a member of the Niagara Federation of Agriculture.

“We went to the local pop station that all my kids listen to and the school buses play, and we also looked at a classic rock station. With the two stations, the listener base is over 100,000 people, so instantly our reach is much larger while still reaching the people who see the pull-up at the library and/or encounter the sticker on the back of our equipment.”

The federation put together two ads – one 30-seconds long, and another that was only 15-seconds long.

“Every day Niagara farmers and farm workers are labouring tirelessly in the fields and travelling on our roads. When driving, if you are approaching a worker on a bicycle, a tractor, or any other farm equipment, be patient and give space,” was the message of the ad.

“Make sure it’s safe to pass before you step on the gas.”

The ads ran over the span of a month and a half in the summer, to align with a large portion of the farm traffic. The goal was to reach outside of the farm community.

“The whole point is that we are reaching outside of just the farming community. Now our reach is the entire region. There are so many places that play the main local radio stations, so you are really getting out into the community and sending that message out,” says Funk.

“And it’s a passive way of receiving the message. People just absorb the message then. It’s not click bait or anything, but it repeats over and over, every day. And when it comes to that time that they meet equipment, they know what to do.”

Funk says that the Revive Fund played a key role in the success of the project.

“The Revive Fund really helped us achieve that reach for the campaign. The only downside is that we don’t have $10,000 more to spend on the radio.”

The radio ads were well received and are now being shared with other regional federations interested in similar projects.

Middlesex County: London Children’s Museum Exhibit

The Middlesex Federation of Agriculture has been working in collaboration with the London Children’s Museum and five other nearby county federations to create a permanent agricultural exhibit at the museum.

The goal of the exhibit will be to share information about farming and growing food with children, particularly those who may be from urban areas with little knowledge of farms.

Graphic Design for agriculture exhibit at London Museum
    The design for an agriculture exhibit at the London Children’s Museum in London. -London Children’s Museum photo

“Our Member Service Representative at the time was Joanne Fuller and she was involved with the museum through the Chamber of Commerce in the city and some other organizations,” says David Bolton, past-president of Middlesex Federation of Agriculture, about how the federation got involved in the project.

“There were people from the Children’s Museum on the same committees as her, and she got wind that they wanted an agricultural section so she brought it to our board to see if we wanted to sponsor a section in the new museum.”

This presented a good opportunity for collaboration between federations.

“There are way more than just Middlesex residents that use the museum, so we went around to other federations in the area. We were overwhelmed with the response,” says Bolton.

“We’ve put them in touch with other commodity groups too, including the dairy farmers and grain growers, so they’ve gone out and beyond what the federations have supplied.”

The local federations have seen concept drawings and have had opportunities to discuss, but with COVID the project has been delayed by two years. The exhibit now targets an opening date of fall of 2024 or spring of 2025.

“I think between the five federations, we are in that range of $55,000 to $60,000 that we’ve put into the project,” says Bolton.

“We wanted to make sure that the right message is sent to the children from our perspective, so that there wasn’t a lot of urban influence that might be offside. We also wanted some input in the programs to make sure it wasn’t from a specialty or niche perspective, but rather depicted an overall image of the ag community.”

Bolton says that Middlesex Federation of Agriculture has been happy with the designs for the exhibit so far.

“They were pretty good and had our mission in mind when designing the exhibit.”

Looking forward

The projects created from the Revive Fund demonstrate how the fund has supported collaboration, education, and community among Ontario farmers, and has allowed them to share their passion with other area residents.

OFA’s Spoelstra says that the fund has been renewed for 2024.

“I think it will keep going as long as uptake is good in the program for county federations, and as long as we have the budget to keep it going,” says Spoelstra.

“For us, it’s about getting members engaged and giving back to the membership. We have 38,000 members that support us and it’s important to the board and organization to give back.

“We think this initiative is a pretty good way to do that and we anticipate continuing on with it.” BF

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