Speaking up for food and farming

Most of us in agriculture have the same gripe.

Whether we farm or whether we work for or with farmers, our common complaint is that agriculture is misunderstood.

The general public doesn’t “get” what we do because they don’t know.

And we’re often a little amazed at how much people don’t know, especially about things that we take for granted.

How could they not know that oranges don’t grow in Canada, why we spray our soybeans and that there’s a season for cherries and peaches?

On the flip side – how COULD they know these things?

Most Canadians are several generations removed from the farm, meaning we have very little direct connection to the land and the crops that are grown on it.

Our schools generally don’t teach agriculture and most have eliminated any food or home economics classes that used to be a standard offering.

Our modern, globalized world means we have strawberries and asparagus year-round, and we enjoy a steady supply of citrus and bananas and mangos and all manner of other produce in our grocery stores; fruits and vegetables we used to only read about or see on special occasions.

What’s important for us to keep in mind is that it is those same consumers who directly influence what we grow, and where, when and how we grow it – through their purchasing decisions at the supermarket, the lessons they teach their children and the causes they support.

And on a more direct level, it is through the politicians they vote for and through the jobs that they have: in classrooms, as health and nutrition professionals, and as those who formulate the policies that shape our municipal, provincial and national laws.

For many farmers, it is enough to just keep up with the day-to-day responsibilities of running a farm and staying on top of the mound of paperwork created by a seemingly ever-growing list of rules, regulations and compliance programs that must be followed.

The last thing many want to find time for – or even think is important – is talking to the public about who we are and what we do.

That is where groups like Farm & Food Care play a crucial role. Farm & Food Care, for example, has developed a proactive outreach program over the last number of years that talks to people about where their food comes from.

It can be a direct conversation through our displays at exhibitions and fairs, or a more indirect reach through tours we do with chefs, culinary students and the media.

This past week was one such example – and a terrific one at that.

Farm & Food Care spent a day on the road with 30 of the most keen and enthusiastic food writers, recipe developers, cookbook authors and home economists southern Ontario has to offer.

We toured an egg farm in Wellington County and a market garden/fruit farm in Halton Region and answered questions about food and farming all day long – from hen housing and welfare to water use, Greenbelt legislation and seasonal agricultural workers.

For the foodies, it’s a great chance to ask questions first hand of farmers or farm organization staff on the tour, and for ourselves and our farmer tour hosts, it’s an ideal opportunity to address misconceptions and clear the air on contentious issues.

This is the seventh year we’ve run the food media farm tour and every year our crowd gets a little bit bigger.

And the dividends of our investment of time and resources are considerable – getting our messages out, building relationships and, of course, some media coverage along the way as well.

The way I see it, the only way we can help ease our frustration about people who don’t understand agriculture – whether it is bureaucrats, political staff, reporters or consumers – is to speak up and speak out.

Our agriculture, our country and our future will be the better for it and it’s up to us to make it happen.

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