Ontario Agriculture

The network for agriculture in Ontario, Canada

Over the last several years I've been fortunate to be part of the Western Fair - the big fall fair in London. Each year I'm in the barns doing some livestock show announcing and new this year kids pedal tractor pulls. In between events barn staff tend to find each other for a visit and some people watching. You really do get people from all walks of life coming to the fair in the city and the one thing I've learned from all of them, is that people really don't know anything about agriculture. But, and this is a big but, that doesn't mean they don't care.
The barns aren't always the most popular place in the fair. The midway usually takes that crown. But when people come into the barn I think their excitement is more genuine than you get in the midway. Imagine a whole family who has never seen a calf being born and getting to experience that. When Dave the dairyman pulled a calf Sunday - the crowd around erupted into cheers with numerous people suggesting names for the new heifer. What about the experience of standing beside a Percheron that's bigger than any animal they've ever seen before? Or the chance to pet one of the new born lambs? Each parent who brings their children through the barn wants to experience agriculture both for themselves and for their children. At the fair, we certainly try to take that chance and teach people something about where their food comes from, and what it takes to produce it.
That's why I think all of agriculture needs to learn from this. Just because someone doesn't understand, doesn't mean they don't care. Farming is a complex business and if we try to educate complex, they'll give up. It's time to push the basics of agriculture and try to relate it to things they already know well. All the mothers around the calving pen could relate to that cow giving birth and wanted to know more about it because they understood. They also had a lot of respect for Dave as he made sure the calf was healthy, the mother given access to food and water, and a fresh bale of straw put in the pen. I believe people who saw that, felt better about animal care on farms. What other parts of the food chain do people understand well enough to relate to? How can we push these messages of animal welfare outside of the fair?

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Comment by Wayne Black on September 14, 2009 at 11:56am
One thing we do, outside the fair, is make the trip to the farm an exciting place for the family to come. We do not do farms tours or have an amusement park type setting. We just invite our urban friends and family to the farm as often as we can and give them something to do to make it memorable. Last month we took a couple adult friends to the wheat field to watch the combine do its stuff and climb up the wagon to check the wheat (touch and feel). The following weekend we had a family over to the dairy to check out the calves and ride a tractor. The kids love the tractor rides - oh, and the bulk tank full of milk. The children love visiting the pigs but the parents... no so sure about that. Each "group" had a hundred questions about organics and animal husbandry (we are not organic). Kept the answers simple in their terms. In the end they questioned why they bought imported organics instead of "conventional" domestic food. Slow process but one-by-one it is well worth it.

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