BELMONT — Open Farm Day, an annual province-wide opportunity for producers to help educate consumers about where their food comes from, as well as educating them on the realities of farming, was held Sunday across the Island.
© Michael Nesbitt/Journal Pioneer
Ryan Barrett explains the beef cattle component that is part of the mixed farming nature of Oceanbrae Farms, a 500-acre operation in Belmont, during the 2013 Open Farm event. The farm also maintains a herd of 70 milk cows, sheep and horses.
The Barrett family enlisted their Oceanbrae Farms in the event to help the general public reconnect with the food they eat, providing a mixed farming operation of dairy, beef, sheep and horses for examination. It is the first time Oceanbrae Farms has been involved in Open Farm Day, but the Barretts have hosted school groups and were recently open for a Canada-wide shorthorn field day, theirs being the only herd of milking shorthorns on P.E.I.
Fred Barrett, the third generation and now principally in charge of the operation, said that non-farmers simply see large animals in the fields and are sometimes intimidated. Being up-close and personal with a gentle cow gives a whole new perspective. He just advises that visitors not get too close to the electric fence wire that surrounds the field and controls yard access.
“Open Farm Day lets the public see how we look after our animals. They are able to pat and feed sheep and calves, letting them know that (the animals) are not scary,” explained Fred.
He also appreciated the chance to teach the value of farms and farming through the use of posters he has put up around the farm.
“We’re mainly a dairy operation, and children have a connection with that from childhood,” said Fred.
The event is also an opportunity to challenge some negative media depictions of modern farming.
Fred is philosophically committed to pasturing his animals as much as possible and insisted the pasture provides better air quality and physical relief for hoof and leg. That means that the animals are seldom in the barn from late spring to autumn, other than for regular milking times.
As eldest son Ryan, 32, leads a group of visitors across the barnyard, he explained that the cattle have rubber mats to stand on when they are in the barn, and that plenty of straw is used to ensure the comfort of the animals.
“Visitors are surprised at how clean the farm is,” noted Fred, notwithstanding the normal droppings that are part of the job.
Ryan is also committed to good farming practices for his future, having even earned a masters degree in animal genetics to help him improve their unique herd.
Younger brother Matthew, 25, is learning the ropes on the job. Their sister, Sarah Jane, is a teacher at a local high school but was on the farm for Open Farm Day.
Tony Zakem has visited farms every year with his family. Last year they went to poultry farms in Queens County and chose Oceanbrae Farms for a change this year.
“I learned how they make the different grades of milk,” he admitted, noting that Ryan described well the process of milk production between the farm and the buyer, Amalgamated Dairies Ltd.
His younger son, Zachary, remembered the explanation that was given about the different breeds of cows on the farm, while his older son admitted that his favourite farm feature was the dog that really enjoyed playing fetch.
Only an hour into the afternoon, the flow of visitors prompted Fred to consider the day a success. Some visitors were farmers themselves, a bonus in Fred’s eyes.
“Visitors were already arriving at 12 o’clock,” he said, despite the 1 p.m. official. “On the whole, they are respectful and appreciative.”