By all accounts, Blackrapids Farmfest Oct. 14 was a resounding success, drawing hundreds of supporters and earning thousands of dollars for dairy barn fire victim Peter Ruiter and family.
I say “by all accounts” because I didn’t make it to the gala at the North Gower Community Centre. I had a long-standing commitment and have relied on media reports and first-person experiences to get a feel for the special shindig.
At this point, I almost feel like I was there. Down the road, as my memory fades even more than it has, I’ll probably convince myself that I was present in body and not just in spirit. I particularly liked the photo of 6-ft., 9-in. Peter holding up auctioneer Stew James – who has got to be a foot shorter – to provide a better view of bidders. Stew took it all in stride.
Among many things, Farmfest has proven once again that that country folk – and city folk too – can be extremely generous in helping out a neighbour in a time of need, that the agricultural community sticks together like flies in a warm autumn window, and that Wyatt McWilliams’ failing eyesight doesn’t slow him down one iota when it comes to organizing charitable events.
It also demonstrated that Ontario’s self-proclaimed Biggest Farmer has a lot of friends both inside and outside of agriculture. That fact has never been more obvious since the $1-million fire at his Blackrapids Farm Sept. 8 destroyed his dairy setup, killing 80 cows.
Peter’s fans – and there are many – say he’s big in a way more important than physical stature, in his heart, in that he’s always there to help when needed, particularly by fellow members of the Eastern Ontario agricultural community.
This wasn’t your standard, modest community gathering intended to put cash in the depleted coffers of a rural family struck by tragedy. Setting Farmfest at the North Gower Community Centre was a message in itself. It’s the largest hall in the general vicinity of the Ruiter farm in south rural Ottawa, an agricultural social and political focal point, and organizers knew they could fill it.
While the Ruiter barns were largely insured, the family faces expenses from related damages. The primary goal of Farmfest, Wyatt has explained, was to raise as much money as possible to help recoup the fire losses. A related goal was to demonstrate support from people the Ruiters have supported so much over the years.
“They’ve always been there whenever the community needed something and now it’s our pleasure to be there for them.”
The Ruiters are getting the message loud and clear. Ten days after the fundraiser, letters of support were still arriving in the mail, Peter said, and strangers are still driving up the lane with offers of cash and free labour should rebuilding be in the cards. Calls were coming in from across the province.
“We thought it would all end with Farmfest but support keeps building,” Peter said, adding that he’s running out of adjectives to describe his feelings.
As much as the community wants to pay back the Ruiters, Peter insisted that Farmfest provided an opportunity for wife Rosemary and himself to offer their thanks to family, friends and total strangers for stepping up in such numbers.
Proceeds from the Oct. 14 event will be added to more than $55,000 already raised through a GoFundMe campaign; the auction portion of the North Gower event was expected to easily raise another $50,000 before general donations were counted.
As for the final total, Peter said it won’t be revealed. He prefers to keep it private seeing that he’s negotiating with insurers and the National Capital Commission about possible rebuilding.
Although the NCC has stated publicly it backs the family all the way, Peter repeated that rebuilding plans are uncertain, partly because he doesn’t own the 440 acres he works. The NCC owns them and, ultimately, its goal is to provide an uncluttered natural Greenbelt around the Capital.
Farmfest was an occasion for members of the Eastern Ontario agricultural community to come together in solidarity, to reflect upon the hazards and benefits of their chosen profession. As Peter would confirm, the potential hazards are many – including fire, debilitating accidents, and even death due to machinery mishaps, lethal gases and other causes.
But the benefits outweigh the downside, one of the main ones being the deeply entrenched feeling of family that runs right through the industry.