Bringing food to the classroom

Experiences of an AgScape Teacher Ambassador

 

By Amy Dunslow, OCT, AgScape Teacher Ambassador

Growing up in Chatham-Kent (Ontario), I had the privilege of learning about agriculture first hand – by visiting farms, eating fruits and vegetables bought at the local farm stand, and running through the fields across the street from our home.  Even though I didn’t live on a farm, I recognized and understood the hard work and effort it took to bring food to our table. This recognition and understanding is often missing for many of the students I meet when I visit urban high school classrooms as an AgScape® Teacher Ambassador.

This is understandable, though, because most people have little opportunity to experience what I grew up with.

At the beginning of each lesson I always start with one question: “What is agriculture?”  The answers I receive often surprise me – from “I don’t know” and “A culture about something,” to the more promising “Culture of food” and the occasional “Farming”.  These kinds of answers remind me that we live in a time where most of us are drastically disconnected from the people, places, and processes that bring food to our table.

When I introduce AgScape® to a class I always comment, “The more you know more about the food you eat, the better choices you will make for your health and the more respect you will have for your food.”   Usually I have to go on to explain that what I mean by ‘respect for your food’ is an appreciation for the abundance and choice of foods we have, a true understanding of where it comes from, and recognition of the energy, thought and care that went into producing it. This understanding is the primary reason AgScape’s Teacher Ambassador Program® is so important – it brings students the knowledge they need so that they can understand how their food is grown and processed, and it prepares them to make informed choices about that food.

In every classroom I visit, I see opportunity for learning, growing and making good decisions.  Today’s students are great at asking questions and trying to find what matters most to them. On several occasions my ‘lessons’ have transitioned to more of an open ‘question and answer’ period, with students picking my brain about agriculture.  I don’t get lessons shift focus – I’m happy that these students are curious and asking questions about what interests them.  This often happens in my Local Food lesson when students are surprised and excited to learn about how much food we actually grow in Ontario.  It’s often a revelation to them, and their surprise is understandable when we consider that they are urban students and the nearest farm is a 45 minute drive away.

In an age where almost any kind of information is readily available to them, talking about food in school – and doing so with balanced, fact-based programs and resources – is very important. It’s right that we focus our attention on something that’s so important.  The Teacher Ambassador Program® has a wide variety of topics for teachers to choose from – this variety allows us to connect to many parts of the curriculum in most of the subject areas.  It’s a great program and I look forward to working to promote it in as many schools as possible.

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A partner organization of Farm & Food Care, Agscape works to promote food and farming literacy in Ontario’s school curriculum.

More information is available on on there website:

Agscape.ca

 

Warm days bring more local food

Local foods like meat, dairy and root vegetables are available year-round, but spring provides an opportunity to really celebrate the greener things in life.

In Ontario, the variety of local foods available at markets, on roadside stands and at grocery stores is tremendous, and for those with access to it, something to be cherished. See what’s available each month with Foodland Ontario’s FOOD AVAILABILITY GUIDE.

Looking for local food in Ontario? It can be easier to find than you might think!

Curious about how your food is produced on Canadian farms? Visit FarmFood360.ca

The Earth needs you – and good science too

Everything’s gotta eat.

All life needs food, and everything relies on a healthy environment for it. Since we humans cultivate our own, farming and the environment are naturally inseparable.

Here in Ontario, and Canada more generally, farmers have a lot to draw from when it comes to environmental improvement. Cover crops like clovers and grasses can help reduce topsoil erosion and increase organic matter; GPS makes for more targeted use of fertilizers and pesticides; higher quality feed means healthier and more efficient animals; conservation projects help growers reduce their water use, establish wildlife habitat, and much more.

A farm – and the family behind it – can’t operate for generation after generation if environmental sustainability isn’t taken seriously, after all.

Agriculture exists the world over, and each farm has its own set of challenges, opportunities, and triumphs when it comes to the health of our air, water, and soil. What suits one farm may not suit another – though there are often a few ways to approach new challenges. Indeed, both agriculture and our planet’s environment are incredibly complex, and that’s something to celebrate.

Politics and narrow thinking, however, have a habit of oversimplifying things to an unhelpful – and dare I suggest dangerous – degree. It’s a problem to be sure, and one that takes a constant, global effort to confront. The health of our planet relies on our understanding of both the positives and the negatives of agriculture’s relationship to the environment, as well as ways to continuously improve how we produce food.

So, for this year’s Earth Day, go to the source – check out what the environment means to farmers, get the science, and give politics the boot.

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Curious about environmental initiatives here in Ontario? Check out these links:

Best Management Practices – Methods farmers use to promote environmental stewardship

The “Soil Your Undies” test – Farmers measure soil quality with underwear

Faces of Farming – Profiles of Ontario farms and the families behind them

Farm & Food Care on Facebook – Quick facts on Canadian food and farming

Farm & Food Care on YouTube – Videos of all kinds, from on-farm water conservation to how chickens are raised

Have questions about farming, the environment, and science in Canada and around the world? Get some answers through the links below:

Best Food Facts – For any and all questions about your food

Cornell University Alliance for Science – Profiles of science in the field, from Alberta to Uganda

Cucumbers, Peppers, Tomatoes, Oh My!

Our friend Fresh Air Farmer is visiting 52 farms in 52 weeks! Check out the latest video where he tours a vegetable greenhouse, one of Ontario’s most technologically advance farm types.

Want to see more Ontario farms? Check out Fresh Air Farmer on Twitter and Youtube for more.

 

Were the good old days really so good?

by Patricia Grotenhuis

When people think of the farms of the past – small, diverse and all work being done by a small handful of people, they often comment that it is better for the environment than the farms of today.  The pastoral views of 50 or 100 years ago conjure up many “warm, fuzzy” feelings about caring for the land and animals.  Today’s farms, with their modern equipment and technologies, are often regarded as less environmentally friendly in their approach.
As someone who lives and works on farms, and who has also worked in the crop protection and livestock research sector during my studies for my agricultural science degree at university, I see it a little differently.  This excerpt, from “The Real Dirt on Farming II” helps explain the environmental benefits of today’s farms.
A common misconception is that early agriculture functioned in harmony with nature, and that environmental degradation is a phenomenon of “modern” farming.  Historical records reveal a different story.


For example, the farming systems adopted by settlers prior to 1850 was wheat monoculture coupled with biennial summer fallow – meaning the production of one crop every second year, with the soil being intensively cultivated but not cropped during alternate years.  This system was wasteful of land and ruined soil health and organic matter levels.
Many of the early methods of crop protection involved either excessive tillage or inorganic chemicals, such as sulphur, mercury, and arsenic compounds.  Many of these older chemicals are no longer used because of their toxicity or inability to be broken down in the environment.
Between the 1960s and 1980s, monoculture corn was common, leading to pest problems and soil degradation in many areas. Today, we’re learning from our past shortcomings.  Crop rotation is the norm, we’re much better at looking after our soil’s health and crop protection products are safer and highly regulated.
As farmers with families whose livelihood and way of life are very close to the land, we understand more than most the importance of healthy soil, water and air.  We live on our farms with our families and depend on the environment to create a healthy place to live, as well as the right conditions to grow crops and raise livestock. Through farm groups, we invest in environmental research and help develop programs to disseminate the latest findings to our members.  In fact, Canada is a world leader in on-farm environmental programs.”
Farms today use modern technology and equipment to protect the environment as much as possible.  Yes, there will always be farms which have room for improvement, but part of the reason for that is technology changes so quickly today that it’s impossible for farmers to use only the newest technology on their farms.  Whether a farmer has all new equipment and uses the latest in crop protection, or they are like most farmers with a mix of new and old, they are adjusting their practices regularly to protect the environment as much as they can with the means they have available.
For a full copy of “The Real Dirt on Farming II” visit: http://www.farmfoodcare.org/index.php/farm-a-food-resources/2-farm-food-care/37-dirt-on-farming