Q&A with Eric Astell, director, Rycroft Ag Society

Eric Astell

The COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging for many organizations. How has the pandemic affected the Rycroft Agricultural Society?
It has had a direct impact on all our activities – rentals of the hall for weddings, farmers’ markets, business meetings, Spirit Arts Dance Society practice sessions as well as other events that have been part of the fabric of our community; chucks; bull riding; music festival; celebrations and fireworks; and various rodeo and equestrian events.

As you know, the pandemic has had a great impact on the community at large as well. We are well into the second year of the pandemic now and just starting to get rolling again. It’s been a long haul just dealing with the day-to-day changes in response to COVID-19.

When does the planning for the Rycroft Race the 8 Chuckwagon Races usually start? Had you already started the planning process when the Rycroft Ag Society decided it could not hold the event?
Typically, planning starts in February for the chucks. All three major events – chucks, music festival, bulls – will be in earnest by April. It’s a lot of work but worth it – all to see the community come together and have a good time. By the time we got to April, it was becoming evident events would be canceled and hall rentals paused.

Will you be able to pick up where you had to leave off for the 2022 season?
I believe we can. We currently have many conversations with sponsors all eager to get rolling. We are always looking for members of the community to be involved. The old adage, “many hands make light work,” is very true for us. If you have a particular interest and want to be involved, contact us. We have a spot for you.

Has the society been able to continue its work at the arena grounds?
Construction work has continued. We were able to manage the risk of contact and physical-distancing. The equestrian arena has been stripped and elevation raised. We have received a significant amount of fill for the north development, bringing the area up to grade. It makes a huge difference to the area and to our long-range plans of creating an RV park as another source of revenue.

Are there any new developments you can share with us?
We are in the early stages of a social event later this fall where we can get together as a community and interact again. Stay tuned for more information through Facebook and our local paper.

What was the biggest impact of the cancellation of both the 2020 and the 2021 Race the 8 Chuckwagon races?
There were a couple of things: (1) the farm crop never got harvested in 2019 until the spring of 2020, resulting in no seeding for the 2020 crop year, so we had a financial hit there; then (2) COVID-19 came, resulting in the cancelation of events and hall rentals – another financial hit. The board of directors decided to just hunker down and keep spend to a minimum. On hindsight, it proved to be a very good decision; it has kept us in a good position moving into the future.

Is Ride for 8 Bull Riding a go for this year?
Oh, how we wish it could have happened, but circumstances have prevented us from moving forward this year. A rodeo event hinges on the cowboys for it to take place. All rodeo events were challenged with the same health restrictions and never really kicked off again until June – just six weeks ago. Understanding that numerous rodeos were planned on short notice in southern and central Alberta, enticing the cowboys to come north for us just was not beneficial for them when there were so many events on the same day in close proximity down south. Rather than having a poor show, we decided to cancel and reconvene for next year.

Will you be hosting other events in 2021?
As mentioned above, we are planning a social event this fall. The Rycroft Ag Society is moving forward to bigger and better things with continual improvements at the grounds.

None of what has been achieved in the past 20 years or what will be achieved in future years is possible without the many hours of volunteer work as well as corporate and individual sponsorships. Our sponsors – whether for events or for farm activities – are key to our success.

Something that we, as members of the community, must remember is that local sponsorship can only happen when those businesses are successful through our individual support. Buy local as much as possible and when possible, or the business may simply close and move away.

On behalf of the board of directors, have a great summer. Keep an eye out for a memorable event in the fall at the Rycroft Ag Center.