With the countdown to the Barrie Fair’s 170th anniversary underway, a troop of volunteers are working to help celebrate local farm life and keep alive one of the most iconic traditions in the region.
“A lot of work is done behind the scenes, from creating ideas to helping connect youth to our event,” says Nikita Nimz, administrative assistant at the Essa Agriplex, home of the annual Barrie Fair.
“Other volunteers join us during the event. From adults to high school students, we have a large array of help,” she added.
For the August 2022 event, the first after two years of COVID lockdowns, elementary students from local schools have helped decorate the Thornton-area fairgrounds through the Sheep program.
Volunteering with the Barrie Fair is an opportunity for students to get their community hours for high school, and for adults to make new local connections and friendships, Nimz says.
“I think the most exciting part about hosting an agricultural fair is how much we learn each and every year about our local agricultural community," she says.
Nimz is intrigued by the adaptations farmers face each year — from viruses and weather changes to crops — and how the agricultural community has a way to work through each of these situations to have a successful year.
“Being able to share this information with the public is a joy," she adds. "A lot of information is found in our education centre, but also learned through communication with the farmers while they exhibit their livestock.”
The Essa Agriplex, which is operated by the Essa and District Agricultural Society (EDAS), faces the same critical need for volunteers as many other non-profit groups.
Nimz noted that the Barrie Fair has a small staff and predominantly relies on volunteers to succeed.
The routines for volunteers, Nimz explains, can vary and are different for everyone.
“We have fair committee members that meet sometimes monthly or weekly from the late fall until the fair takes place," she says.
Nimz said the Barrie Fair is in huge need of more individuals to join the fair committee and to be committee heads.
“Individuals are also needed to help us grow more sponsorship to help with our prize money to our exhibitors," she notes.
Other volunteer opportunities include committee heads for areas such as vendors and agricultural shows for sheep, goat and horse events.
“The fair committee’s priority is building awareness of agricultural issues, to help people learn about agriculture, but also to have fun," Nimz says.
As agriculture in Barrie has dwindled over the years, with thousands of homes and industrial buildings being built, Nimz said it's concerning to see diminishing access to farmland for local farmers.
While helping connect the local, urban population with its rural roots, the Barrie Fair also helps the farming community to have a place to share their passion for their livestock and crops.
“Being able to give the remaining farming community and surrounding communities the opportunity to share their lifestyle with the public is a true honour," she says.
By being a volunteer, Nimz says people are helping the Barrie Fair to continue a long-standing tradition that started 169 years ago.
“You are also helping our truck and tractor pull and demolition derby enthusiasts to keep enjoying their biggest passion," she says.