To most people, an agricultural fair is exhibits of baking & canning, livestock competitions and midway rides.

But for over a century, they have served as major social and economic drivers in their communities, contributing more than $13 million annually to the local economy and offering networking, business development and agricultural education opportunities.

Despite this legacy of service, fairs have faced several challenges over the last decade which have undermined their efficacy. Shifting agricultural trends, compounded by financial and human resource constraints, have left fair societies struggling to adapt and respond to the evolving needs of their communities.

To help societies understand and address their community’s specific priorities, the BC Association of Agricultural Fairs (BC Fairs) surveyed over 50 BC communities to explore their challenges and opportunities, as well as document the expectations of the agriculture industry and general community.

While the research confirmed that BC’s agricultural fairs fulfill a valuable role in community building, one of the gaps identified has demonstrated a need to strengthen partnerships within the agriculture industry, promote agriculture products and producers more frequently, and engage the community more closely.

For Janine Saw, BC Fairs’ Executive Director, the study exceeded their expectations and has become a catalyst for community and economic development, as well as agricultural advancement.

“We now have a clear idea of what opportunities exist and how best to pursue them,” explains Saw. “The study created a roadmap that will enable individual fair societies to tailor their services according to community needs and rebuild relationships.”

A new communications strategy is on the top of the to-do list. According to Saw, enhanced promotional efforts for the fairs can offer broader benefit, boosting agricultural awareness in general and heightening consumer appreciation for locally grown and processed products.

“Right now we’re really focused on engaging and promoting local agricultural producers and innovators and connecting them to customers,” says Saw. “There is extraordinary potential for growth with strong direction and leadership and new partnership opportunities, which we are now in a better position to meet, thanks to this project.”

Funding: $19,933 through the former federal Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program. (A0738)