Amongst friends
Dwight Foster enjoys his 12th annual Customer Appreciation Day at North Gower Grains on Wed., June 26. Van Dusen photo

NORTH GOWER – Dwight Foster wins his customers two ways at his annual North Gower Grains Appreciation Day… through the belly and the pocketbook.

No wonder they keep coming back for more, up to 800 to 900 strong, with the 12th edition marked June 26. Foster, family members, staff and other helpers empty out a fabric barn and fill it with enough tables and chairs to comfortably accommodate the throng of well-wishers. The sides are lined with display booths and the food is grilled outside.

Ah, the food!  For the past 10 years, ribs cooked up by Backyard Bar-B-Que have become the stuff of legend in Eastern Ontario agricultural circles. With a team of about seven, owner-operator Jason Ride gets busy first thing in the morning basting and baking enough half racks to feed at least 1,000 people.

It almost happened one year and Ride is determined to never get caught short; in fact, there are often leftovers that Foster invites his guests to finish off. Ride says it takes two sets of ribs each from 400 pigs to fill the order.

“It’s like supplying one of the big fairs, say Carp, over four days except condensed into one day. We go through roughly the same amount of ribs here that we do at Carp Fair.”

There are plenty of other tastey treats as well. Guests get to fill their bellies as a reward for listening to presentations from the podium on the state of grain markets and other agricultural news.

It’s not an invitation-only event. While guests check in at the door, all are welcome. Customers in attendance from as far west as Toronto and as far east as the Quebec border enjoy the day they describe as a “celebration of agriculture” where they’re likely to encounter key players in the Eastern Ontario industry.

In what is believed to be the biggest annual Eastern Ontario grain purchase day, Foster offers guests an appreciation “price bump” paying more than current market value for contracted corn, beans and wheat. NGG staffers were on hand to sign up those wanting into the deal which trickles into the following day for those who can’t make it to the event.

Also operating a beef feedlot nearby, Foster said the bump is another way of saying thanks to loyal customers who’ve made his operation one of the most successful in the province. He’s expecting a banner crop year in 2019, so much so that a new dryer processing up to 12,000 bushels an hour has been added to the NGG lineup. Last year, it became apparent that one dryer at the elevator could no longer keep up with demand.

Surveying the scene, Foster has no plans to change the Appreciation Day format in any way because it doesn’t need fixing. He expects the next generation of Foster elevator and feedlot operators to carry on the tradition, supported in part by agri-business partners including financial institutions.

Foster likes to mix the social aspects of the event with useful information from an array of guest speakers on a range of related topics that help farmers take a hard look at their businesses.

One of his pet peeves is input costs. He maintains that about 75 per cent of growers don’t know what it costs them to produce an acre of grain and what yield they need to make it pay. He wants to help them focus on this aspect of operations, thereby becoming more profitable.