9/28/2013 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
NEWARK, N.Y. — A steady drizzle didn’t seem to deter attendees of Fun on the Farm, who learned about agriculture as well as their farmer neighbors.
The free biennial event was held Sept. 21 at El-Vi Farms, which straddles Wayne and Ontario counties. Previous locations have included J. DeBoover Farms in Phelps and Hemdale Farms Inc. in Seneca Castle. The farms open their properties to the public for a few hours to show them a real working farm.
While the daily work of milking, delivering calves and keeping equipment running formed the backdrop of the event, visitors played games, perused informational booths, sampled local products and saw how El-Vi Farms operates.
About 1,100 third- and fourth-graders received a special tour of the farm the day before the event as a “sneak peak” and trial run for the larger event on Saturday.
A few hundred volunteers from farms across the area helped set up tents for exhibitors and vendors, drive hay wagon rides around the farm, and provide assistance to the 5,000-plus visitors.
Though it was a lot of work, farm partners Ted Peck and Allan Ruffalo said it all went well.
“Many, many people are here to help,” Peck said. “It’s like they come out of the woodwork to make it happen.”
Between his duties of organizing the fleet of hay wagons for the farm tour and answering questions from staff, Ruffalo agreed that the turnout was better than one would expect for a rainy day.
Despite having to use many buildings sprawled across the farm, it didn’t take long for the farmers to close down the event when it ended at 4 p.m.
Donald “Skip” Jensen, senior field advisor for Ontario County Farm Bureau, agreed and said, “The amazing thing is that by 6 p.m., everything will be gone and it will be just like it was before.”
The last time El-Vi hosted Fun on the Farm was in 2003. The farm began planning for the event about six months ago. The farm partners and employees had to strike a balance between keeping the farm accessible and safe, since it’s not possible to shut down the operation during the event.
“The main idea is to educate the non-farming public about modern agriculture,” Jensen said. “And to offer it a nice farm goes a long way. They can see how well the animals are treated. It’s not just a corporation. It’s a family farm, even though a lot of families make their living here.”
Peck hoped visitors who live next to fields tilled by El-Vi will feel friendlier toward the farm after experiencing the tour.
Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Seneca Falls, took a hayride tour and perused the exhibitor tents during his visit.
“Agriculture is the number one industry in the state,” Nozzolio said. “I try to make these tours each year they’re offered. They’re available to help the public understand their food they eat isn’t grown by supermarkets. It’s amazing all farmers do, even though this is a tough industry.”
Nozzolio recently snagged a $7 million grant for the Cornell Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y., which conducts agricultural research to help farmers increase yields.
El-Vi Farms milks 1,000 head of cows and raises its own calves and feed. A few animal “guests” for the event included a horse, guinea pigs, rabbits, pigs, chickens and peacocks, all from area farms.
Children’s activities included painting a mini pumpkin, cabbage bowling, beanbag toss and coloring agriculture coloring sheets.
Samples of local cheese, maple syrup, grapes, grape juice, apples, apple chips, and chocolate and strawberry milk let visitors sample the many flavors of Ontario County farms.
Visitors could also see the farm’s modern equipment, which was parked around the event’s main area, and learn about how the farm functions.
Jensen said farmers interested in hosting an event like this should “visit an event like this to see what it takes. With today’s people so far removed from production agriculture, farmers need to do a good job at telling the public why we do what we do,” he said.
Larger dairy farms like El-Vi Farms have come a long way since the typically diverse operations of 100 years ago, where each farm raised several different types of animals and crops. Now, science and technology drive the profitability of many dairies. Peck chuckled at the memory of “wowing” his older brother, an engineer, with the GPS on an El-Vi tractor.
“He hadn’t seen anything like it,” Peck said.
Cornell Cooperative Extension and Ontario County Farm Bureau co-hosted the event with the support of several dozen ag-related businesses and organizations. Peck said obtaining good co-hosts and sponsorship also helps make the event run smoothly.