Most industry experts agree that agricultural education is going to be crucial as the business evolves to meet the changing times. Not only does the agriculture industry have to cope with an increasingly urbanized population out of touch with the fundamentals of food production, it also has to contend with a lot of misinformation being spread by activist groups opposed to the entire system in the first place.
Misinformation compounded with an out of touch population creates a nightmare scenario going forward. This is part of the reason why the non-profit group Agriculture for Life has recently put together an informative and in depth Agriculture Teacher Tool Kit which can be easily downloaded from its website to help guide local educators and provide good information, says Kaley Segbore, marketing and communications coordinator for Ag. for Life.
“This kit provides a really wide overview,” she says. “It also touches on things like the economic impact, husbandry, care of animals, as well as going over some of those buzzwords we keep hearing in the media like GMOs and biotechnology. It explains them in a really succinct way. It’s such a great tool because it starts at the very basic level of explaining things like what’s the difference between a steer and heifer. So many of us who work in agriculture industry, we take for granted that basic understanding of terminology, and for a lot of us have expertise in our own areas, and not in others.”
The primary objective of the Tool Kit is to help teachers, says Segbore, but a secondary one is to fight misinformation about agriculture.
“We are definitely trying to share a variety of different perspectives, and provide what the science shows. A more comprehensive understanding. We are really wanting to give farmers and the agriculture industry a place to tell their story… Right now over 80 per cent of Alberta’s population lives in urban centres. That number really illustrates how many people aren’t involved in agriculture, and aren’t connected to more rural settings.”
Medicine Hat area farm educator Nichole Neubauer of Neubauer Farms runs the “Growing Minds” program for local urban students to help them understand the agriculture industry, which is, literally, in their own back yards. Neubauer welcomes Ag. for Life’s Agriculture Teacher Tool Kit as another resource for she and other farm educators to get the word out about the value of agriculture in Alberta today.
“(Most people) don’t have a farmer to go and visit,” she states. “What do they have? The endless supply of social media in their back pocket. So when they are concerned about something, or have a question, they Google it. They are finding a lot of information there, and what they will do is really search for something until they find an article which aligns with their personal beliefs. This (Tool Kit) gives people a better appreciation of what’s happening in their back yard.”
Neubauer says the agriculture industry must do a better job reaching a popular audience with its message, or risk having policies imposed on them from those with little to no understanding of agriculture.
“There is table set, and there is chair that’s missing that doesn’t have somebody in it,” she says. “We’ve got to get farmers to that place at the table. We need to start having conversations about food, and how we raise the food, and how Canada is amongst the safest food systems in the world. We need to share that information.”