By Nathan Stevens
April 12, 2013
The recent Ontario Agri-food Education (OAFE) annual meeting underscored the importance of providing learning opportunities to children about the food system that keep store shelves – and their bellies – filled. The fact of the matter is that most children today lack any direct connection to farm life anymore. Yet there are important opportunities and challenges that the broader public needs to be aware of about agriculture today and tomorrow’s opportunities within the sector.
OAFE is working hard to increase the knowledge children have regarding agriculture and food productions in both conventional and unconventional ways. They have a wide array of teaching materials that teachers can use in the classroom. OAFE has also launched an “Ag in the Aisle” campaign, providing learning opportunities in grocery stores. OAFE also has an ag ambassador program where champions visit classrooms to entertain and field questions children have around food production.
Outside the classroom, efforts are being made to send positive messages. Farm Credit Canada is focused on the positives through their “Agriculture More Than Ever” campaign. The fact of the matter is that agriculture is an employment opportunity in Ontario. The Ontario Agriculture College believes that they could triple the number of graduates they have to fulfill the needs of the industry. Modern agriculture needs skilled people engaged in a wide array of occupations.
Yet there are challenges that need to be addressed. Keynote speaker Stewart Skinner emphasized that there is a lack of understanding of the circle of life that fuels agriculture. And it rings true. The basis of my own family farm – that the sun feeds plants, then those plants feed animals and people, and that animal waste nourishes the soil allowing more plants to grow – is not understood by those outside of the sector. Agriculture adds discipline and control to natural processes.
The most critical time to impact the long-term perceptions and understanding of people is when they are young and are learning and evaluating daily. OAFE is Ontario agriculture’s frontline in this important task. Young people need to know that there are opportunities and jobs available in agriculture. Young people also need to understand that agriculture is based on bringing discipline to natural processes to improve potential and feed our world.
Nathan Stevens is the General Manager and Director of Policy Development for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham, Belleville, Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston and in Brantford and Woodstock. It is also found on the CFFO website:www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.