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Times Transcript: Pilot project hopes to liven up farms

Tuesday, July 12 2011

Read whole article BY LAURA BROWN, TIMES & TRANSCRIPT STAFF

A new pilot project is trying to mix tourism with agriculture and get people out into rural New Brunswick to understand how important our small-scale and family-owned farms are.

Called AgroExperiences, people are encouraged to get out and visit seven farms across Southeastern New Brunswick to learn and appreciate the farming lifestyle.

Mathieu D’Astous is executive director of the Really Local Harvest Co-op, the group that began working on the project in 2007.
“The idea is to kind of look at how we could develop an agri-tourism industry in the area by looking at models elsewhere, in Ontario and the rest of Canada,” he said. “It’s about diversifying the revenue of farm businesses and help them make a living.”

The Really Local Harvest Co-op is a co-operative of about 30 farmers from the southeast region of New Brunswick. As their mission states, the members involved are trying to “promote the development of sustainable agriculture,” and in 2007 started researching ideas to do just that.
With funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the province, as well as some other financiers, the group was able to make the idea a reality this year. They launched a new website to promote the initiative at agroexperiencesnb.com, and have brochures with information about each farm and where they are located.

It’s an idea they came up with to help out the farmers who have been loyal to the industry, while getting people to understand and appreciate what farmers do.
On May 16, 2006, Statistics Canada’s Census of Agriculture counted 2,776 farms in New Brunswick. This was an 8.5 per cent decrease over the past five years. There were 629 fewer New Brunswick farms compared to 1996.

Roger Richard of Green Thumb Farm in Acadieville, one of the seven farms involved, said this could be the beginning of people realizing the value of local farms.
“Unfortunately less and less people know where their food comes from,” Richard said. “With the price of fuel, if something were to happen, if the system happens to be in trouble, the (grocery store) shelves would be empty in about three days.”
Richard said people will then realize the need for local farms. But the average age of farmers in the province has risen from 50 to 58 in the last decade.
“We have to do some serious thinking to see how we can keep young people in the business,” Richard said.
Green Thumb Farm just opened their u-pick strawberry operation, which will be opened for about a month. This is just one agri-tourism aspect to Richard’s farm. He also has guided tours Tuesday to Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
He said this idea is just one step in the right direction.
“My hope is that it will drive a lot of people to go and visit those farms,” said D’Astous. “A lot of these farms are looking to develop those (tourism) aspects of their farm. Some are saying, ‘Hey, this could help me diversify revenues and help me make a living.’”

D’Astous is hoping the project will gain a lot of traction and perhaps spread across the province in the future.
“I think there’s a lot of potential for families, for people who want to get in touch with producers. Also for those who want to experience the rural landscape and for people who want to get more in touch with where their food comes from,” he said.

Richibucto River Wine Estate, owned by Alan Hudson, is another of the seven farms. The estate is right beside the Richibucto River, with 20 acres of vineyards growing along the banks.
Hudson established the winery in 2005 and said seeing more people coming to visit would really help.
“It’s very important for anyone who is concerned about their carbon footprint to turn to local producers,” he said. “Our wine is made from the fruit in our field which is taken to our winery and turned into wine. There’s not a big carbon footprint at all from what I do.”
Hudson said he has a garage full of a good selection of great wines, including reds Leon Millot, Marchael Foch and a Sabrevois/Radaisson blend as well as white Minnesota variety, Prairie Star, L’Acadie Blanc and Semi-dry Rose.
“It’s just taken a little bit of work to get my name out,” he said. “I am hoping this will help.”
“The message needs to get out there that if people don’t really use (local farms) when they’re here, we may lose it.”

AgroExperiences means getting out of the ordinary, and experiencing an adventure, while supporting local and educating yourself, said D’Astous.
“It’s to make sure family farms and small-scale farms stay alive,” he said. “They’re competing against a global industry whose rules aren’t really fair for them.
“I think that it’s important to buy local just to make sure that we keep the family farm because we need to keep the ability to feed ourselves and we need to ensure our rural communities prosper.”
Janet Everett at Magnetic Hill Winery and B&B said it’s good that things are getting started and hopefully people will realize the value in agri-tourism.
“In our situation, it’s just a way for us to diversify and get a different cash flow,” she said. “We work like crazy, and the weather could make you or break you so we concentrate also on the education aspect.”

Magnetic Hill Winery opened in 2005 and sits on a piece of land that’s history goes back to 1867. They restored the 144-year-old farm house and barn to create a haven for those who want to enjoy a taste of wine and some history.
The Everetts are now working on completing the B&B aspect of their winery.
“People love the venue and we encourage the growing and learning aspect as much as we can,” Everett said. “This type of project will hopefully promote this agri-tourism idea.”
Other farms that offer visits and tours include Corn Hill Nursery in Corn Hill, which is the largest nursery east of Montreal. A complete range of fruits, shrubs, trees, vines and perennials are offered and a cafe is onsite for visitors to enjoy.

Les Petits Fruits de Pre-d’en-Haut is a high bush blueberry farm in Memramcook. They grow over 20 different blueberry varieties as well as raspberries and pumpkins. Guided tours are available by reservation starting in September.
Memramcook is also home to popular Belliveau Orchard, which, for over 80 years, has been producing great-tasting apples, wines, cider, juice and honey.
In July and August they offer daily guided tours at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.

Finally, M.Tomate in Rogersville is where you can see 16-foot high tomato plants, stop by their coffee shop/bakery/dairy bar, and learn all about annuals and perennials. Guided tours are available Tuesday and Thursdays, May to the end of October at 9 and 11 a.m.
They all want people to come, experience and learn about what’s on their plate, said D’Astous.
“We’ve seen the decline of farms so a population that can’t feed itself is pretty vulnerable in a food-security aspect,” he said. “But for people, it’s an opportunity asides from the food and health issues just to have a good time, to get out to in the country and smell the flowers and see the animals and taste the products of our lands.”

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