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Millarville Ag Society recognized for innovation

“It was about overcoming the COVID challenges and seeing how we could innovate, frankly, to stay alive and stay relevant."
WW-Millarville Market Award BWC 7251 web
(From left) Alberta's Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen, Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson, Millarville Farmers' Market manager Melonie McKee, Millarville Racetrack and Agricultural Society president Anna De Paoli and member Bill Jackson pose on July 10 before Dreeshen presented the society with an award recognizing its technological innovation and resilience through the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a trying year, the Millarville Farmers' Market has been recognized for its innovation.

Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen paid a visit to the Millarville Racetrack and Agricultural Society (MRAS), where he presented MRAS president Anna De Paoli with an Alberta Agricultural Society Innovation Award to recognize the market’s ability to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was about overcoming the COVID challenges and seeing how we could innovate, frankly, to stay alive and stay relevant,” De Paoli said.

Among the rethought events was the Christmas market, held in winter of 2020 as greater restrictions loomed. It involved advanced ticketing online for timed entry to limit crowds.

“The Christmas market is a revenue generator of over $300,000,” she added. “Without that revenue, we wouldn’t have had the funds to survive the winter.”

The award was also gratifying for Melonie McKee, manager of the Farmers’ Market.

“It feels great, just knowing all the hard work and effort paid off, and that we were able to muster through all the crazy COVID,” said McKee. “All of our volunteers, they put in so much time and effort.”

Having weathered the storm, the market was able to reopen for the summer.

“It feels great, it feels really good to be reopened and see all the people that are coming through the gates today,” she said. “I love it. It’s feeling back to normal.”

A portion of Dreeshen’s visit was also dedicated to unveiling the provincial government’s new Made in Alberta program.

“I think Albertans will see a main Alberta logo and they'll say ‘I want to support a local farmer or a local vendor, because I know that’s supporting a farm family close to where I live,’” Dreeshen said.

“With COVID, almost two years of it, it really did stress the supply chains around the world.

“Lots of Albertans want to know that we can be self-reliant as Albertans, we can actually produce the food and beverages and everything that we need to eat and live here in the province."

When asked about advocating in foreign markets such as Asia, Dreeshen added the Province doubled its international trade offices from four to eight, with the most recent addition being an office in Singapore.

“Asian markets are growing extremely fast. China obviously is a large country and consumes lots of food, so they have to import tremendous amounts,” he said. “But obviously we’ve seen them shutting down canola exports from certain Canadian Companies.

“It is very important for us to be able to diversify. We’re trying to get as many agriculture products shipped around the world, rather than just relying on one or two markets.”

Also recognized were two hundred-year farm families: the Sinclair-Smith family of Viewfield Ranch, and the Wills Farm, both established in 1918.

Stuart Sinclair-Smith, who accepted the award with wife Ruby at his side, appreciated the recognition, saying it was help from family that made it possible.

“It’s not many ranches that can say they’ve been in the family for a hundred years," Sinclair-Smith said. “To be recognized for all your work, it’s a big thing. It’s a great honour.”

“It ain’t easy farming.”

Brent Calver

About the Author: Brent Calver

Award-winning photojournalist for the Okotoks Western Wheel and
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