As part of Dairy Farmers of Ontario’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations, DFO worked with 12 regions in the province to host an event on June 27 or June 28, 2015. The purpose of this event was to open barn doors in invitation to Ontario families so they can better understand the dairy industry and to grow the relationship between rural and urban communities.
The overwhelming majority of Ontario dairy farms are actually family owned and operated. When Dairy Farmers of Ontario decided to support 15 family farms across Ontario in welcoming the public into their dairy farms over two days in June 2015, there was a great deal of ground to cover. How could we work to transform these private properties into open, safe, and educational attractions for the public?
Agriculture is often a polarized subject, bearing a great deal of public scrutiny, and an equal amount of misinformation. The Canadian dairy industry is among the most regulated and natural dairy production operations in the world; however, many people incorrectly ascribe some of the practices of other countries to Canadian dairy producers, including the use of bovine growth hormones, which are banned in Canada.
Canadian dairy producers are well aware of the misinformation surrounding their livelihood, and the participating farms welcomed the opportunity to meet and educate the public where they live and work, sharing a day on a working dairy farm.
Exposure to the rural, agricultural lifestyle is often limited, particularly for many urban families. We saw the opportunity to create a county fair-style event identity, working with the host farms to embrace the spirit of true openness.
Over four months, we worked closely with Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the regional Dairy Producer Committees to design, produce, package, and ship 15 custom Open Farm Days event kits.
The kits included everything the farms would need to produce and host a pop-up county fair, from seven-foot wide custom pinatas, bunting, and Holstein Face fans to 40-foot play parachutes, photo booths, and prize picnic baskets filled with Ontario cheese.
Working over two solid weeks, we sorted, packaged, and delivered complete event kits including a host and volunteer guide, wayfinding, and entertainment ideas to 15 locations. We took calls and questions from hosts and managed a regional advertising campaign to promote the events.
We were lucky enough to attend three separate events to experience the result of our efforts, and the public response to the dairy producers and volunteers was lovely to see. Beyond the ice cream, rides, and entertainment, people were truly engaged and curious about the enterprise and the animals, and many mentioned that they felt the host farms’ willingness to invite people over to learn about their business was remarkable.
Barn doors were opened to over 12,000 Ontarians to help them experience a real dairy farm first hand and show what dairy producers do and why they do it, and to grow the relationship between rural and urban communities. Special guests included government representatives, like MPs and MPPs as well as local media, businesses, schools, and dairy processors.
Over 2,300,000 social media impressions were generated, with overwhelmingly positive and engaged feedback. The public response to the event encouraged dairy farming families, who have agreed to host the event (on a smaller scale) annually, to continue the spirit of open hospitality and dairy education across Ontario.