Earlier this month the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RAWF) took place in Toronto, celebrating its 100th year.
Forage lineup brand new for 2023
Maizex Seeds has new hybrids it says will build on its existing stable and provide yield and value to growers….
That’s an incredible achievement. The RAWF shares this achievement with a multitude of agricultural societies throughout Canada, some of whom have been hosting fairs almost as long as Canada has been a country. It shows that those who grow and raise crops and livestock continue to be proud of their heritage and what they produce. And, it shows that those who don’t continue to enjoy getting a glimpse of what it may be like to farm, or show animals, if only for a few hours, or a day or two once a year.
The RAWF, which is held just outside of Toronto’s downtown core, may be the only opportunity for urban dwellers to see a cow, horse, or commodity crop up close.
I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up on a farm but I was lucky enough to go to the public school in my hometown of Ancaster where kids from the surrounding rural areas attended, so I had a little more exposure to agriculture earlier on than many townie or city kids do.
One of my earliest, and favourite, memories of show and tell in grade two was when my classmate Scott brought in a dairy calf from his family’s farm in nearby Jerseyville. I thought that was just the coolest thing I had ever seen, and no other child (including me) was ever going to top that. It’s hard to beat letting a calf suck a seven-year-old’s fingers.
I had a natural interest in agriculture and was fortunate enough to have farming friends answer my questions and show me how things worked. I joined the education committee for the Ancaster Fair in high school and volunteered in the Old MacDonald’s barn educating urban children from Hamilton about agriculture.
It was this experience that first showed me how little urbanites really knew about agriculture. I always found that most often, it was the teachers and parents that asked what seemed like to me to be obvious questions, or without logic. I always giggled a little inside when people realized that a cow had to give birth to produce milk. What mammal doesn’t?
[RELATED] Editorial: Assumptions about rural are grating
My volunteer experience has also shown me over the years just how big the urban-rural divide has become. I started attending the RAWF at the end of high school. I hate to say how long ago that was, but it’s approaching 30 years now.
I did not attend every year, but I was pretty consistent with attendance for about a decade or so. But, then employment and family obligations made making the time for the show a little more difficult, and I had a big lapse in attendance. Until this year’s show, I can’t honestly remember when the last time I did attend was, but it likely about 12 to 15 years ago.
The time lapse was long enough to really notice how the dynamic of the show has changed. The RAWF is still the largest combined indoor agriculture fair and international equestrian competition in the world, and I’ll admit the layout had expanded and changed enough that it took me awhile to get my bearings. I actually had to refer to the map a few times!
I think the show has stayed true to its roots, and is still a premiere venue for many national livestock competitions. Walking through the barn it was great to see so many farms from other provinces and the fellowship amongst farmers from across Canada. The growth in Northern Ontario agriculture was also well represented.
The most significant change for me was the effort many agricultural organizations now put into their displays to engage with attendees. Of note was the Grain Farmers of Ontario’s trailer where attendees could walk through and see how grain is grown and how it is used. The virtual reality combine was a big hit with the kids, as was several interactive displays from the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, who created a Minecraft-like video game called Dairycraft to teach children about dairy, as well as using plungers with fake poop on a ‘Poo or False’ quiz board.
I really enjoyed attending the RAWF again, and wondered why I had waited so long.
But the drive reminded me. I am beginning to wonder how much longer ‘country’ will be coming to the city.