The Western Fair Agriplex was home to the agricultural exhibits this year. Farmers tended to their livestock while patiently waiting for passersby to ask questions and engage in their displays and educational games aimed at capturing the attention of young children. Local pig farmer, Debbie Boekhoven has a full time job on her farm, in addition to volunteering at the Western Fair. Debbie says that the children are the best part of her experience. “I feel obligated to teach young children about where their food and other products come from. I get to talk to kids in grades 3 and 4, and I love it. They are so eager to learn, their minds are like sponges!”
Barry is the supervisor of beef and sheep, and agrees that children should be the focus of the farmer’s attention. “My goal is to educate everyone that walks through these doors, but when it comes down to it, adults don’t want to engage in the same way children do. Adults have had their chance to be a part of the industry, and haven’t engaged. These kids are excited to see animals, excited to learn, and they have a genuine interest. If we foster that interest, we could create a much more knowledgeable public in the future.”
Although the kids have been enjoying the company of farmers and their livestock, adults can’t help but realize that the educational booths full of animals have diminished over the years. Barry says that over time it has been getting harder to bring livestock due to increased regulations. “I have to wipe down the bars with disinfectant… I don’t even do that at my own barn. I like to keep things natural. I realize that it’s for the visitors walking through that might have a lower immune system but still, these rules are getting more and more intense every year.” Debbie also agrees that times have changed. At one time pig farmers were expected to take a sow and her piglets to be on display, but now it is no longer allowed. Debbie is not complaining though. “It used to be a very hard process before, but now I can take four or five wiener pigs and it is much easier to get ready for the fair. I always hear people complain that they wanted to see the babies though.”
When asked about the future of the livestock education booths at the fair Barry commented “I think it’s going to get worse, I hope that it will get better, but I don’t think it will.” Dave Clinton, the dairy supervisor said “It’s hard when people start to believe the first thing that they hear online. People are no longer asking farmers their questions and that’s why we need this. We need the public to gain a direct access to farmers. Seeing the livestock and farming education centre get smaller over time just proves to me that I need to be coming to the fair even more.” The Ontario farmers made a strong presence at the 2018 Western Fair, and plan on coming back next year despite the difficulties that may be presented in the coming year.