The Good Ol’ Days

The farmer of today is in a 4X4 truck equipped with hands free phone technology


Driving into Wetaskiwin on September 1st, 2012 you could witness a record crop throughout the entire countryside. Certainly the ideal weather during the growing season was mainly responsible for the massive yields of canola, wheat, barley, hay and other crops but a lot of it has to do with changing farming practices, techniques, crop varieties and equipment.
Alberta’s agriculture and food industry has been undergoing momentous growth and changes for more than 100 years.  Today’s look for a farmer is to be driving a 4X4 truck equipped with hands free phone technology, a smart phone in his pocket and his farm equipment loaded with the latest in precision farming technology. The modern farmer is committed to excellence and to exploring new ways to increase efficiency to produce food for our community, province, country and the world. And also, how they will pay for the more than $1.5 million they have invested in the operation. They are intelligent and continually seeking information about the agriculture production industry. 
Still many people reminisce about ‘the good old days’. 
Many people were at the Reynolds Alberta Museum on September 1strd and 2ndth, 2012 searching for a piece-of- their-past as they wandered through the working and static displays of agricultural equipment. They were frequently dwarfed by huge steam engines and other farm equipment on display.  Nostalgic memories were shared among elderly spouses, grandparents, children and grandchildren.
The Festival was an enlightening experience for all guests. They were able to make their own butter by rapidly shaking a small container of cream and watch demonstrations of flailing wheat to separate the kernels from the chaff. They got to see how the grain elevators that once dotted the prairie countryside, collected and handled the grain. As they entered the walkway inside the Museum the aroma of freshly baked bread led them to a baking demonstration where they were invited to enjoy a sample of bread as it was brought out of the oven. 
But it was the more than 40 pieces of vintage agricultural machinery highlighted by the smoking, rumbling huge steam engines that were the feature attraction for the crowd.  Plowing, threshing, cutting a field of barley with a binder, pumping water and operating the huge, chugging steam engines pulled people to watch the field work demonstrations. In spite of chilly weather with threats of rain throughout the weekend, the Festival has become a strong tradition it attracted a big audience. There is so much machine power, not only on display, but operating. 
Cynthia Blackmore, Head of Marketing and Communications for the Museum explained that the Festival brings people to Wetaskiwin from across the entire province and beyond. “This event started before the museum opened 20 years. This is our 25th Harvest Festival and the 20th for RAM.  This reminds people of their history so it’s very near to many peoples’ hearts.  Its (cultivating and harvesting) not done like this anymore. The Festival is a mainstay of what we do by celebrating mechanization and agriculture, the industry that started Alberta We are bringing in the crops the old fashioned way with the threshing machines, binders and other machinery.” 
Today, fewer than three out of every 100 Albertans are involved in farming 
In the past, most people knew how their food arrived at their table by direct experience with farming. Urban families would visit the grandparent’s or uncle and aunt’s farm and see first-hand how their food was grown and where it came from.  Today, fewer than three out of every 100 Albertans are involved in farming. As a result, a large percentage of our population is a few generations removed from agriculture and the agri-food industry. The ‘industrial’ type of farm operations we see today are so much bigger it limits the opportunity for youth of today to experience first-hand how food is produced. The Reynolds Alberta Museum is helping address that gap by hosting the Annual Harvest Festival.
Ms. Blackmore summarized the Festival. “This is what it’s all about for us (the Museum). This is how we interpret our collection… we operate them during the Festival. We not only collect, repair and show a collection of machines, but run them.”
She further explained how modern technology is augmenting their information dissemination. “We now use technology to explain to the entire world what we are. We now have people from across the world sharing in the history of agriculture that has been created by the (Reynolds Alberta) Museum. We have several segments on YouTube that have resulted in inquiries from around the world.” 
Cynthia singles out one highlight of the Festival that is important to her. “What really makes me happy is every year I see more groups of grandparents, parents and children, 3-4 generations, coming together to celebrate the bringing in the crops. It’s the feeling of the harvest season that coincides with the beginning of a school year, the harvest moon, and the rewards of hard work.”
Volunteers support RAM throughout the year and begin preparing for Harvest Festival begins in earnest at least two weeks before the event. “Needless to say, this whole event (Harvest Festival) is very labour intensive and we have all staff as well as more than 85 volunteers to help give our visitors the best experience possible”, concludes Blackmore with a warm and proud feeling. 
The people at RAM can be very happy and proud about seeing their weekend guests enjoying themselves, especially the old-timers who did this ‘stuff’ to survive many years ago. But it is also gratifying for the young people to see first-hand what the old-timers actually had to do to produce food. Congratulations to RAM for closing the agri-food generation gap. 
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