The OOAS annual convention drew more than 1,100 people. Outgoing president Doug Yeo spoke about the things he learned during his year as president. Courtesy photo, OOAS

Social media personality Tim May (Farmer Tim), shown on the left with OOAS president Brian Slaughter, discussed his journey to ag advocacy.
Courtesy photo, OOAS

STIRLING – More than 1,100 people attended the 174th Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies (OAAS) annual convention from Feb. 13 to 15 in Richmond Hill. Young ambassadors, representing fairs across the province, also gathered to build their leadership skills as well as learn about careers in agriculture.

The OAAS convention organized a special session on governance to meet a growing demand from its membership. Presenters Cathy Redden, Shawn LaPalm, and Tim Carson (from the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies) spoke on the basics, best practices and the roles and responsibilities as board members.

Seminars and panel discussions continued over two days. More than 40 sessions covered topics such as attracting youth to the board level, being better at meeting with your local politicians, getting your message out into the community and current regulations such as livestock traceability. At the same time, people could view provincial competition winners in posters, quilts, cookies, tarts, and photography. Entertainment showcases were held every night as well as a busy auction which saw a John Deere pedal steel tractor donated by Huron Tractor in Exeter sell for $825. There was a heavy competition to see if it could surpass the winning bid on a New Holland tractor, which it did.

The opening speaker, Tim May (Farmer Tim on social media), addressed a crowd of more than 600 about his journey to “agvocacy.” He is a dairy farmer near Guelph who has just under 60,000 followers on Facebook. He shares stories and pictures of the everyday activities of his family and their animals on their farm and takes a lot of time answering questions and explaining farming practices to the many followers on his Facebook page. His humour and pictures illustrate the love farmers have for their animals and how they are treated with respect. Many of his online followers in the audience waited patiently following his message to take pictures with him.

The convention closed with the annual general meeting. The convention administrator, Kathryn Lambert, and manager Vince Brennan spoke to the delegates about what they have done during the past year. Outgoing president Doug Yeo from near Bayfield spoke on the things he learned during his year as president. He stressed that ag societies need to dream big, that fairs are thriving throughout Ontario and that ag societies need to tell their stories.

The OAAS presented Helen Scutt, a recently retired OMAFRA specialist, with its highest honour – the Meritorious Award – during the meeting. Scutt formerly worked with agricultural societies assisting with their needs and questions about government regulations and programs and was a yearly presenter at the convention. She was extremely well respected by the membership; the proof of that was receiving two standing ovations during the presentation.

The closing speaker, Jen Puente from the Wisconsin State Fair, stressed the need to remove yourself from negativity and remember to do the things that actually make you positive. At one point some in the crowd proved they could make the situations as positive as she could. The room was filled with smiles and laughter and the challenge was to do that every day.

The incoming president, Brian Slaughter from the Forest area, announced that the OAAS would be celebrating its 175th anniversary next year and invited everyone back.

The OAAS is very grateful to its many sponsors that make it possible to continue to provide the many programs and services for member agricultural societies.

The OAAS is the umbrella organization representing more than 200 agricultural societies in Ontario. These agricultural societies organize and manage fairs in many communities, ranging in size from small one-day events to large multi-day events. The OAAS provides guidance, education and programs to assist the agricultural societies host their fairs and promote agriculture and a rural way of life in Ontario.