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The Growing the North conference at the ENTREC Centre over the past few days has been highly successful according to Grande Prairie and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Dan Pearcy.

"The conference is always well received by the community," he said. "Yesterday, we had topped out at 475 attendees at the conference, so we're quite thrilled about that and that people are enjoying and listening."

Some of the highlights for Pearcy at the conference were speeches provided by tech companies.

"I'm a techie so Mark Saltzman is definitely one of my favourite speakers. Also, the Stantec presentation - talking about communities and the development and moving of people and creating an environment within our community - were two of the big ones for me," he said.

Saltzman discussed staying competitive and productive with technology.

Perhaps one of the most interesting speakers at the conference was Peter Ladner, author of the Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities.

Ladner discussed how the way Western cultures grow food today has changed so much and with an ever increasing global population, the world's farmer will have to increase production by 70% in order to meet demand by 2050.

"The world's food system is in crisis," he said.

And while the average age of farmers has increased to about 55 years old, Ladner noted young people and city dwellers, especially women, are building urban farms and gardens.

He also mentioned with every degree increase in temperature, crop production globally falls by about 10%, although in northern Alberta it might increase because of a more favourable climate.

The author and former Vancouver city councillor noted that 40% of the food produced is thrown out either by the producer because it doesn't meet a certain standard for size or shape, by the distributor as product that hasn't been bought, or by the consumer as household waste.

In light of these findings and the growing awareness of consumers, Ladner said the way people consume, treat, and regard food has changed with a growing movement towards the 100-mile diet and urban community gardens.

"As people say, 'I want to get more control over the food that I eat. I want to learn more about the food that I eat. I want to have some knowledge of how my food comes to me.' The result is people are building these gardens," said Ladner, noting an increase of farmer's markets and direct to seller markets by farmers.

Businesses have responded to this growing consumer awareness by advertising and selling local product, which can in turn increase sales by 40%, according to a quote Ladner attributed to Galen Weston of Loblaws.

Ladner said about 88% of consumers buy local because they want to support local producers.

The movement has also prompted local governments to respond by providing incentives, such as tax breaks to developers and residents who grow urban gardens and farms, reclamation of brownfield sites, and other things.

"The most popular thing that governments do to make all this happen is to help the farmers markets get established, get rid some of the red tape in the farmer's markets...Also, allowing people to buy and sell produce with their neighbours without licences and inspectors, and allowing people to grow on rooftops," he said.

As for next year's conference, Pearcy said the chamber will begin planning in about a month and deciding on who the speakers will be and he encourages anyone with a suggestion to contact the chamber office.

Twitter: @DHTSvjetlana

The Peace Country Classic Agri Show rolled into Evergreen Park over the weekend for yet another successful year.

The event featured everything agriculture from machinery, to 4H events, horse programs and a bull sale. Show president Ross Mathers said, while they don't have any final numbers, he expects that the number of visitors was in the 18,000 range.

"We thought it was good," he said. "We had a few more people over into the horse building and stayed for a little longer and the bull sale was right full as usual."

Mathers said the average price for a bull went for around $6,500, which would put the sale on par with last year's average, 'which is strong' he added.

Mathers said in addition to several new vendors, there was also new activities for people to check out.

"We had two or three more events. We had a kids farm auction, you might say, where they donated food to the food bank and ATB (Financial) in turn gave them funny money for the dollar's worth so for every five dollars worth of food, they got $500 worth of funny money and then we auctioned off some kids toys and toy tractors and there was a wagon and bicycles and it went really, really well," he said. "There were a few disappointed kids when they got to the limit of their money and their mom and dad had to tell them they were out but that's what this was all about, a little bit of an experience."

Mathers said a large horse program was also added for this year which started at 10 a.m. and went all three days until 5 p.m.

"It attracted a lot of people. There was all various disciplines of the horse industry there and we... increased our Craft Corner. We had quite a few exhibitors in the Craft Corner and they feel they all did really well," he said.

Popular in farming this year were air seeding and zero till options.

"We had a few more vendors selling haying equipment like how to protect your bales, wrapping them and things like that - bale handlers, they were quite popular. Solar watering seems to be very interesting, a lot of people are really in to that kind of stuff, like heating their water by solar (energy)," he said. "Lots of different grain products, fertilizer products, things like that."

The local 4H groups also had a good time.

"They had a good turn out. They had I think about 18 heifers and steers and about 25 sheep. It went really well," said Mathers. "Everybody had a lot of fun. They had a little 4H judging show of horses. Glenn Stewart, one of our horse demo guys, he supplied four nice horses and critiqued their judging on the horsemanship so it went really well. And the petting zoo was a real hit."

The Agri Show is one of the larger fundraisers for Evergreen Park and the show president said he expects the show raised between $50,000 to $60,000.

"I'd like to thank Evergreen Park and our committee. We worked hard and it went really well," he said.

Twitter: @DHTJocelyn

The province has ponied up to keep Alberta’s horse racing industry on track.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci announced the decade-long deal Saturday at Century Downs race track north of Calgary, which will replace the current pact set to expire.

“This new 10-year commitment will continue to support an important economic and cultural piece of rural Alberta and the agricultural sector,” Ceci said.

Horse Racing Alberta (HRA) will receive a cut of the net revenue from slot machines at the province’s four racing entertainment centres.

However, while the industry previously received just shy of 52% of those gaming revenues, the new deal see it begin at 50% this year and gradually shrink to 40% in 2018.

“It’s important that we keep an industry going, but it’s also important that it be affordable to Albertans, and that’s what this new agreement does,” said Ceci.

Rick LeLacheur, chair of the HRA, said even with waning funds the industry will make due, noting the significance of the deal for horse racing in Alberta.

“We’ll deal with the money we have available,” he said.

“I know in government 10 years is a long time for an agreement. But the minister really recognized how important a long-term agreement was to the industry, particularly the breeding industry.

“It just doesn’t happen overnight.”

That sentiment was echoed by stable owner Norm Castiglione.

“When you’re breeding horses, it’s a two-to-four year process each time you breed a horse,” he said.

“By the time you get a horse to the racetrack, it’s three years after you’ve decided to breed it.

“If you don’t have those longer agreements, it makes no sense to put the money into that part of racing.”

Ceci portrayed the deal as an effort to preserve both rural culture and jobs during a difficult economic period.

“As a government, we recognize the importance of horse racing not only from a cultural perspective, but also as a source of livelihood for many Albertans,” Ceci said, adding that 1,600 Albertans are directly employed by the sector, with an additional 7,000 “touched by racing in some way.”

The announcement comes a month after Edmonton’s Northlands race track announced it would close after this season.

LeLacheur pointed out that Northlands CEO Tim Reid is on the HRA board and was aware of the negotiations with the province.

Ceci said he didn’t want to speculate on Northlands’ plans.

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