Diversified revenue-generating activities are a trend among Ontario agricultural societies.
Some were trying new strategies before the pandemic but lack of in-person events for nearly two years brought the trend to the forefront.
“The pandemic prompted many societies to ask themselves what they can do besides hold a fair,” says Vince Brennan, general manager of the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (OAAS). “They’ve learned they don’t want to put all of their eggs in one basket and now, hosting other events throughout the year has turned into a business for some.”
There are more than 200 agricultural societies across the province but the opportunity to diversify seems most available to those who own their grounds or have a long lease arrangement and facilities to offer for rent.
Why it matters: Agricultural societies play an important role in hosting agricultural events and promoting education in many communities.
Since the Ancaster Agricultural Society (AAS) moved to Trinity Road in 2009, it has built new facilities from the ground up. In March, it opened a 75,000 square foot Agriculture Event Centre with the goal of being a premier equestrian, livestock and multi-purpose event facility. The building features a 118- by 287-foot sand ring, more than 100 stalls and seating for 1,000 and is suitable for all seasons.
“This new facility more than triples the space we had previously and creates an opportunity for large shows and events to have a venue in our community,” says AAS general manager Tammy Quinn.
The project was funded with the organization’s savings, a fundraising campaign and financing from a local credit union.
For the farming community, the increase in AAS’ rental income means a continued ability to offer free meeting space for 4-H clubs and various commodity groups. In addition, it offers a youth summer camp each July with agricultural programming.
“We’ve been progressive because we have a membership base that has a vision to evolve,” says Quinn. “We own the property and put on events so we can continue to provide agricultural education within our community.”
In Elora, the Grand River Agricultural Society (GRAS) has recently become more involved in the industry by hosting events and partnering with RH Accelerator Inc. to invest in early-stage innovations related to agriculture, food and the environment.
On a smaller scale, Brennan says other societies are renting facilities for everything from craft shows and music festivals to winter vehicle storage. The increased revenue is being used to cover operating expenses and invest building improvements.
Though some societies are moving in new directions, Brennan doesn’t think traditional fair events will disappear. In fact, the OAAS has received reports of record-breaking attendance at multiple fairs this year.
Some agricultural societies still face challenges but post-pandemic, Brennan says the biggest hurdle seems to be a lack of volunteers.
“There were some early pandemic indications that some agricultural societies weren’t going to survive but they are all thinking outside the box and have diversified to prove otherwise.”