IPM Chair reflects on the year that was - Jan. 4, 2018
BY 2017 IPM CHAIR JACQUIE BISHOP
During the countdown to 2017 on New Year’s Eve, 2016, I felt a sense of panic as 2017 had finally arrived. It was our year to showcase Huron County and to demonstrate to the world that a group of volunteers from rural Ontario had the ability to host a successful world-class event by transforming farmland into parking, plowing, RV park with full services and a tented city with streets full of exhibitors, entertainment with all amenities that would draw thousands to the area to stimulate economic activity in the area.
We had been saying for years that we were going to host an engaging and entertaining event with something for everyone. Now, we needed to live up to what we had been saying. No small task!
Our dedicated team wished to fulfill the expectations, but some roadblocks were encountered. To host an International Plowing Match (IPM), the costs are into the millions and we needed to be financially accountable and massage plans to achieve what we had set out to do. There were so many variables on how to achieve our goals; it was a nightmare to weigh all options.
Locally, none of us had organized an event of this magnitude before, but under the direction of the Ontario Plowmen’s Association, we had to curb some of the creativity of our passionate committees.
All committee chairs will remember the challenge of defending their budgets and telling the story behind the numbers. Until budgets were passed in early 2017, many committees had plans on hold. As soon as they were approved, the committees became resourceful in finding ways to work with what they were given. In the end, many came in under budget because they found ways to make things happen.
We experienced new challenges in 2017 when the Celebration Ontario grant was not approved until late into the spring. This grant helps covers expenses associated with additional attractions. It was very difficult for programming to be booked and scheduled with this unknown. It was a ripple effect which transferred to many committees with plans having to be put on hold until the grant was approved and the details solidified. Support from the federal government to celebrate Canada’s Sesquicentennial was received but all parts needed to move forward together. Once details were released, this was a big milestone and gave many of our committees the green light.
Having the support of these government bodies helped lead us to success, but we could not have accomplished the same result without all of our sponsors and supporters. A great deal of time during 2017 was spent keeping communication lines open with all of our local government partners.
At the county and municipal level, the need to keep everyone engaged and communication transfer was key, but whatever we needed for services, these partners were resourceful to support us in any way possible.
We are so blessed in rural Huron County and beyond to have community-minded businesses and individuals who wanted to support this event. The sponsorship leadership team of Brian McGavin, Graeme Craig and Erin Robinson spent hundreds of hours identifying partners, determining what the right fit for that particular business was and then soliciting the dollars either cash or in-kind services. Committee chairs and members added to this initiative with their own connections which made sponsorship so successful. Recognition was given through signage, social media, and naming rights.
It was an opportunity for businesses to be highlighted, but we also received many anonymous donations or support from people who just wished to be a part of it. Some people said to us, “you give of your time, we give our resources.”
It was truly gratifying to know that the community stood behind us.
Reflections of 2017 included many successes and challenges experienced as the match approached.
Successes of IPM 2017:
• Strong agricultural ties in Huron County: We chose our theme for our poster to help illustrate this theme and we built on it throughout and during the match. The Huron County Economic Development department supported us by highlighting nine farm families or agricultural businesses in their series of posters and videos leading up to the match. The Citizen told the stories behind some of the key volunteers and their connection to the IPM. People enjoyed getting to know the story behind the family/person/business.
• Landowners: They were key and they continually worked with us throughout the year.
• Momentum: Planned marketing released at the right time proved successful. Our souvenir team hit records for sales and we have them to thank for ongoing promotion. Senators Don Dodds, George Townsend and Neil McGavin along with Jane Zwep and Lynne Godkin, conquered the bench sale program and who better to be inspiring and exciting people about the IPM than these five.
• Barn Quilts: Families embraced a new initiative that will leave a lasting legacy in the community and each one has a story behind the design.
• Quilt Competition: Passionate quilters planned and executed a quilt block challenge, assembled the blocks into beautiful treasures, hosted a well-attended quilt show and had a beautiful show at the IPM.
• Beautification Competition: This committee ignited individuals, towns and businesses to put time, effort and creativity into beautifying, celebrating and pointing the direction to Walton.
• “Because We are Farmers” song: The song written by Sherry McCall and performed by Jack Story, Amanda McClure and Isaiah Sills, was well received and all the local entertainers who shared their talents on the seven different stages were a success.
• Engaging youth: Co-op students, Emma Baan and Julia Van Nes; summer students, Janelle Shapton, Emily Terpstra and Brad Vincent got hands-on experiences and inside knowledge of what it takes to host an event of this magnitude. High school students proudly built the benches.
• Volunteer Tuesday, Sponsorship Wednesday, Throwback Thursday and Feature Friday: These days all helped us highlight the volunteers and businesses who were our partners, appreciate the past and excite people about what we had in store for them at the match.
• Tireless Volunteers: The dedicated team behind tented city led by Gerry Wheeler, Frank Stretton and Jeff McGavin and RV Park Chair Matt Townsend and Plowing Co-ordinator Paul dodds started work on-site mid-July with a clear, organized plan in place and they never let their foot off the gas until the containers were repacked and shipped off to IPM 2018. Many key volunteers supported them along the way and worked towards achieving the vision and have reported back that they are going through withdrawal as they enjoyed the team atmosphere.
• Landscape committee: This group bonded together in the Field of Plenty at Cranbrook Farms while tending to the sunflowers and pumpkins which then elevated the level of landscaping and made the site beautiful. Sixty-six painted doors that were painted by community partners decorated the hydro poles were an added appreciated feature.
• Brussels Fall Fair: Moving the fair to the match was a great success.
• Great signage, traffic, parking, steppers and greeters, wagons and information booths: These people all set the mood for attendees, going above and beyond to greet and welcome and direct. Reports back all compliment our over 2,000 volunteers.
• Special Attractions: Programming on lifestyles stage, main stage, CKNX Event Centre, Walton Square, Dodge Ram Rodeo, antiques working and static displays, lounge, Brussels Fair, RV Park stage, all had something for everyone that brought in a diverse group of people. There had been many discussions to figure out this key component. This group did an amazing job.
• Exhibitor space: was sold-out with exhibitors reporting they achieved success with sales and exposure to all attendees.
• Gates: Celebrating Huron County’s IPMs was appreciated by visitors.
• Tractor and Horse Plowing: Over 200 competitors who had great Huron County soil to compete on.
• Accessibility: Charlene O’Reilly and her committee set new levels for inclusion and was well received.
• Youth Opportunities: We held the first-ever Ontario Princess of the Furrow Competition and the first-ever 4-H Invitational Show. Then there were the Huron County 4-H Match Club, Sodbusters competition, Queen of the Furrow competition, soil documentary competition, school banners displayed and incredible education curriculum for all children.
• Special Guests: Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and family, Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne as well as all other provincial leaders and MPPs were all welcomed to Walton.
• Friendships: While making lunches, while preparing for the worship service, while practising to entertain on stage, while meeting every morning to determine who drives which tractor, who greets in what field and to every other committee or stakeholder, new lifelong friendships were made.
Challenges experienced that evolved into successes:
• Tents not erected in time: Sanitation Chair Ben Driscoll led a group of committee members to assist so the match could open on time.
• The rains came: Because of safety reasons, the parade that Lori and Gary Pipe and committee members had planned had to be cancelled. The politician wagons proceeded to main stage with MPPs enjoying dancing in the rain. At that point, what else could you do?
• The rains came again: After countless vehicles got pulled out of the field on Tuesday, 25 volunteers stood with their heads down kicking the mud on Tuesday evening. With heavy hearts after years of planning, we knew the decision had to be made to close, the site which affected thousands of stakeholders.
Everyone banded together and the word got out. Resources were offered and people volunteered to do whatever needed to be done to get the grounds ready for Thursday. Re-jigging all the puzzle pieces was a huge undertaking, but everyone rose to the occasion and it happened. Comradery and working towards a common goal was impressive to witness. Local businesses experienced a surge in sales on Wednesday. The Blyth Festival hosted a well-attended matinee. Entertainment planned for tented city was rescheduled to the RV Park for all residents to enjoy. We did what we could to accommodate all stakeholders, but I believe we gained respect by doing the right thing for our landowners and with the safety concerns that were present.
• Then, the heat came: Our resources allowed us to access extra water to get on site and it became a focus for all of our volunteers to watch for and help prevent dehydration. Many attendees have since expressed their thanks for that complimentary bottle of water that they badly needed. Our EMS team provided stellar service.
As I reflect on 2017, it is apparent that to host a successful IPM, it takes the parent organization of the Ontario Plowman’s Association, all levels of government, community-minded businesses and a broad group of engaged passionate people that can lead, have a vision and roll with the punches when challenges present themselves. Smiles seen on all stakeholders and attendees’ faces while they are covered in mud, showing their calf in the alumni competition, pedalling in the tractor pull at Brussels Fair, plowing at their first match, dancing in the lounge to the Mudmen or enjoying country music star George Canyon have given us the satisfaction that we were looking for this whole time.
I was given this priceless gift to lead the IPM team. Its value is unmeasurable. Like everyone else on the different committees, my personal, business and family life took a back seat but just like everyone on the IPM team, we knew we only had one chance to create this legacy and we were determined to make it happen and create a success and we did. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of which I am “Huron County Proud” to have been a part it.