Please allow me to put things into perspective. In 1867, 150 years ago, Canada’s Confederation took place. Seventeen years earlier, in 1850, the Schomberg Agricultural Society (SAS) was formed. Plans are already underway to celebrate our 168th anniversary in, May, 2018.
Although primarily known and recognized for our annual spring fair, held on our privately owned and operated fairgrounds, the society is so much more than a four-day event. SAS is one of over 220 sanctioned agricultural societies across Ontario. Our mandate is to promote and educate people on topics related to agriculture in our community and to offer social relief to members in need.
SAS is a member of the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (O.A.A.S.) and is one of the few agricultural societies that operate this close to a sprawling, heavily populated urban area. It is still largely, though not entirely, comprised of farmers and remains a relevant aspect of the growing community around us.
This symbiotic cohabitation serves to continually nourish the strong connections SAS members have with the surrounding non-farming community, as well.
King Township boasts a rich agricultural history, built by its farmers over several generations. SAS is proud to be recognized by the local community as an organization with documented roots.
Many current SAS members are following in the footsteps of the seven or eight generations of hard-working farmers who preceded them. Though sophisticated technological advancements often frame the face of modern-day farming, the families that formed the society, and continue to play active roles within it, thrived in agriculture long before the advent of the hi-tech tools commonly used today.
Within a short distance of the SAS fairgrounds, active farming operations engaged in raising, growing or producing horticultural products, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, ducks, turkeys and eggs.
Numerous equine facilities offer horses for breeding, racing and showing. Experts in dairy and beef cattle abound, as do growers of a large variety of fruit, vegetables and cash crops (corn, soy, hay, wheat, barley and oats), honey bees and all of their by-products. A short drive to the east and there’s the Holland Marsh, with its vineyards and abundance of more fruit and vegetable growers.
It would be delinquent of me not to mention the offshoot industries that spawn as a result of the surrounding agriculture. Equestrian centres for riding and healing, local equine Olympians, organic farms, firewood for energy and hardwood for lumber, Christmas tree farms, livestock and horse trailers, tractors big and small, and the veterinarians with domestic, exotic, bovine and equestrian expertise.
Each sector of our industry feeds supporting industries such as equipment maintenance and supply, transportation, printing, and so forth.
SAS’s agricultural grounds are at the heart of Schomberg for a reason. They offer a convenient location for fundraisers, car shows, Shakespeare in the park, and movie shoots. Members of the community enjoy strolling through our park, often with pets. When asked, SAS is happy to make the grounds accessible to community groups and are grateful for the help of friends who helped us put a functioning bridge in place.
SAS works closely with the Schomberg Village Association, Arts Society King and the Schomberg Lions Club to facilitate parking space for annual traditions such as: A Main Street Christmas, the annual Street Gallery, and the Lions’ pancake breakfast. We co-operate with the Schomberg Community Hall to permit parking during events held there and on school days, “the walking school bus” tends to pass through the SAS grounds, as well.
Our four-day fair provides multiple community groups and local businesses with an opportunity to showcase themselves throughout the grounds.
As a community group, we are proud of our many community partnerships. A recent highlight, that serves well to illustrate the strong bonds within our community, is the September 30th, 2017, community organized fundraiser put on to help one of our own: the O’Hara family. Local farmers and community groups came together for the Diamonds and Denim Gala and Dance.
The Schomberg Hall, adjacent to the fairgrounds, came alive with camaraderie, a roast beef dinner, giveaways, dancing and the highlight of the evening: the live auction. Only Ed Gardhouse, SAS Director, event emcee and renowned local auctioneer, could auction off a rocking chair three times, and manage to make sure it ended up going home with Mike O’Hara to aid in his recovery. You had to be there to witness it!
The attendees, including many farmers from York Region, bid lavishly on auction items such as antique milk bottles, agriculture-themed artwork and the Schomberg auction staples: fresh homemade butter tarts and pies. A multitude of volunteers and donors came together for the gala, organized to help a fellow agriculture family that has fallen on hard times.
It took an army of cooks to carve up such a wonderful dinner. The most prominent supporters of the night, and leading up to it, were members and volunteers of York Federation of Agriculture, Schomberg United Church, King Curling Club, and of course, SAS.
Every autumn SAS gives back to the Schomberg community. September 16, 2017 marked our annual tradition of the Community Spirit Bonfire Night. The fairgrounds have activities for anyone attending. There is our stage entertainment, children’s crafts and of course, the bonfire with marshmallows for roasting. Local farmers supply straw bales and corn stalks to set the stage and the mood. (When SAS isn’t using the portable stage, we make it available for rent to other events).
The Community Spirit Bonfire Night is another way for us to serve our mandate by reaching out to our rural and urban neighbours to encourage interest, promote improvements and advance the quality of life standards in agricultural community.
In preparation for the Bonfire, we assess agricultural needs within our community. SAS promotes the production and marketing of agriculture and encourages the development of life skills that involve youth in agricultural activities. We support our local 4-H Club and make our facilities available for initiatives that the existing SAS executive deem appropriate for the enrichment of rural and community life.
Our Homecraft Division is striving to keep the arts, crafts, and domestic arts alive. SAS encourages healthy competitions that perpetuate culinary and domestic skills that include jams, baking, sewing, knitting and horticulture. SAS celebrates and promotes awareness of techniques performed by our ancestors. Who doesn’t enjoy homemade efforts at their finest?
As Schomberg continues to grow, so does our potential to educate newcomers moving into King Township from traditionally urban lifestyles. We face this challenge with a terrific number of volunteers and only one SAS manager. Just like any community group, our agricultural society is no exception. We need volunteers to continue our events. You don’t have to come from a farming background to have a vested interest in agriculture, and we’d welcome your help and expertise.
Farms of yesteryear had livestock a grew their own produce. Today, most consumers buy what they need at stores, far removed from the intimate knowledge of where their food came from. The work and purpose of SAS in bridging that knowledge gap are becoming increasingly more important. We are fortunate to live in a community with such a diverse population, where farmers and non-farmers mingle and socialize on a daily basis.
Our kids go to school together, attend the same extra-curricular activities and form bonds in mutual friendship and respect. The same is true of adults who partake in the opportunities that SAS and other community organizations present in ensuring that agriculture is recognized as a vibrant part of King Township. You probably commute past many of these farms daily so remember: if you ate today, thank a farmer!