Country Drive ’09 expands

Vacationers and staycationers travelling between Didsbury and Red Deer will get more chances than ever this year to see what makes rural Alberta tick.

Co-ordinator Kathleen Raines visits some of the booths set up during the 2009 launch of Country Drive.

INNISFAIL — Vacationers and staycationers travelling between Didsbury and Red Deer will get more chances than ever this year to see what makes rural Alberta tick.

Country Drive, started in 2004 as a small collection of rural businesses interested in bringing more people to their doorsteps, has added five new members and two more tour dates for its 2009 season, launched at Edgar Farms on Thursday.

Starting at the Ellis Bird Farm northeast of Red Deer and running to the Blooming Fields market garden west of Didsbury, a total of 22 rural businesses are taking part in one or more of the four tours being put on this year, starting with the spring tour set for May 30 and 31.

A summer tour goes Aug. 1 and 2, and the group has added a fall tour on Oct. 10 and 11 and a Christmas tour on Dec. 5 and 6.

That’s twice as many as last year, and twice as many as the first Country Drive, held in 2005. That does not necessarily mean there will be eight tours next year, although co-ordinator Kathleen Raines is not ruling out the potential.

Country Drive was developed by its founding members as a means of drawing people out to see farms and rural businesses that might not be accessible to them at other times of the year. Although some of the producers have stores on their farms, others produce mainly for public markets or other means of direct sales.

New member Arlene Mountain, founder of Arlene’s Teas, says she usually peddles her tea pots and loose tea at farmers markets, but is now getting ready to open a small storefront at her home, located midway between Bowden and the Dickson Dam. Mountain joined Country Drive to help publicize her business.

It’s sometimes a little difficult to get people to stop at a rural store because they do feel a little conspicuous if it’s not busy, said Tracie McTaggart, who sells a line of specialty care clothing, including scrubs for caregivers, pyjamas for premature babies and nightgowns for people who need help getting dressed.

Country Drive helps encourage people to stop in and look around, said McTaggart, who joined the program last year.

Sandy Hengstler, who sells crafts from a converted garage at her home, says Country Drive has been an excellent means of exposing her business to people, especially the summer residents and tourists staying nearby at Gleniffer Lake. Membership in the tour is well worth the money, because it offers a much higher level of exposure than conventional advertising, said Hengstler.

Country Drive 2009 offers 17 sites for its spring tour, 22 for summer, 11 for harvest and nine for Christmas, said Raines.

While members are confident that the harvest tour will work out well, success for the Christmas tour will rely heavily on good weather. Members are prepared to accept that people simply won’t come if its’ 40 below with a howling wind outside, she said.

Details on Country Drive and related events, including links to members’ web pages, are available online at countrydrive.ca

Contact Brenda Kossowan at bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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