On a recent Saturday at the Spruce Grove Farmers Market, Roy Bohn serves a Shaken Hive Honey customer.Photo by Zoom

Agricultural societies boast “an established history as the heart of Alberta’s rural communities” and the province wants to keep them pumping, says the responsible minister.

“Ag societies help communities across Alberta thrive by providing events, volunteer opportunities, recreational facilities and so much more,” said Agriculture and Irrigation Minister R.J. Sigurdson, the member for Highwood. “Alberta’s government recognizes the hard work that goes into all of this, and we’re incredibly grateful to the thousands of volunteers that make it possible.”

Rodeo grounds, ice rinks, community kitchens, parks full of farm equipment, fairs, tournaments – if those or other physical hubs or enduring events exist in your rural community, chances are there’s an agricultural society connection.

Roy Bohn says the Spruce Grove Farmers Market, west of Edmonton, ventured out on its own about six years ago. But it remains closely affiliated with its original sponsor, the Spruce Grove and District Agricultural Society.

The market owns an enclosure on property it rents from the ag society. Nearby is an historic wooden grain elevator that the society operates as a museum.

Bohn’s parents were among the market’s founders in 1977. “The ag society ended up giving the market $200, said there you are, go on, and God bless.”

The first ag society in what would become Alberta arrived on the scene 1879, says information posted on the website of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies. Today 291 predominantly rural ag societies operate, and 20 of them are at least 100 years old. Another 24 celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2022, the website documents.

It takes more than 52,000 volunteer hours a year to support the societies’ work – that’s $8.9 million worth of labour – as they help keep the lights on and the roofs intact for more than 700 facilities, and run events that attract 1.6 million attendees a year.

Sigurdson told the legislative assembly March 14 that his ministry intends to keep providing grants for major ag facility repairs and operations.

The Agricultural Societies Infrastructure Revitalization Program continues at $2.5 million a year in all. It funded 34 projects in the last approvals round, among them $74,360 for the Saskatoon Lake Agricultural Society to put towards upgrades in a community hall for commercial kitchen appliances, wheelchair ramps and widened entries.

The funding for Saskatoon Lake, just northwest of Grande Prairie in northern Alberta, is one of three examples under the program provided in an email from the ministry.

A community about 50 km northeast of Red Deer in central Alberta benefited, too. The Clive Athletic and Agricultural Society received $91,580 to add space and storage to dressing rooms and widen the walkways between them.

And Big Country Agricultural Society received approval for $100,000 to repair a recreation centre in Oyen, a southern Alberta town east of Calgary near the Saskatchewan border. Hail extensively damaged the roof and other parts of the Crossroads Centre, an arena for rodeos, and riding and other events.

Other provincial funding available to ag societies includes $16 million in Budget 2024 towards the Community Initiatives Program, or CIP. It supports non-profit organizations in the delivery of “diverse projects that foster healthy, vibrant communities in every corner of the province,” said an agriculture ministry spokesperson

Agricultural societies can apply under CIP for operating grants and, for new or enhanced programs and events, project-based grants. Individual grants are worth up to $75,000.

Budget 2024 maintains $50-million for the Community Facility Enhancement Program, which “fosters healthy, vibrant communities across Alberta” by supporting the renewal, expansion, purchase or building of arts, culture, heritage, sports, recreation and other public-use facilities. Assistance worth up to $1 million is available.

As well, agricultural societies benefit from grants from other departments, governments, groups, businesses and sponsors, which the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies posts online.

Jennifer Johnson, the member representing Lacombe-Ponoka, said ag societies play a “foundational role in the training, safety and maintenance of our rural communities,” putting $3 back for every government dollar invested. Programs like 4-H and Open Farm Days are crucial in educating coming generations of Albertans, said Johnson, an Independent member of the assembly.

“How can we ensure that ag societies will continue to be valued and acknowledged contributors to our communities for decades to come?” Johnson asked.

Perhaps a designated day will help.

Sigurdson said last year he made Sept. 21 Ag Societies Day in Alberta. “There isn’t a month that goes by where ag societies don’t leave a positive impact on our communities and our agriculture sector, and by observing this day each year, we can ensure all of Alberta knows it.”

More Information

albertaagsocieties.ca.

alberta.ca/agricultural-societies-program

alberta.ca/grants-for-non-profits

By George Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 03, 2024 at 09:34

This item reprinted with permission from   Fort Macleod Gazette   Fort Macleod, Alberta

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