Students to Celebrate #CdnAgDay By Sharing the RealDirt on Farming

Next week, farmers and consumers across Canada are encouraged to share, tell, and post how they’ll be celebrating Canadian food on February 16, 2017, the inaugural Canada’s Agriculture Day.

University students, too, are gearing up to celebrate in several ways. Farm & Food Care reached out to universities and agriculture schools across Canada offering up copies of the Real Dirt on Farming  and call-to-action cards to hand out to non-agriculture students, staff, and visitors on campus.

The goal of the day is to encourage students and staff to seek out answers to their food and farming questions, directly from the students handing out Real Dirt magazines, or through online resources like www.RealDirtonFarming.ca, and through use of the #CdnAgDay hashtag on social media, from Facebook, to Twitter, Instagram, and more.

There’s still time to get involved! Whether it’s hosting a made-in-Canada meal, or Tweeting what you do on your farm each day, or as a student yourself, check out www.cdnagday.ca and scroll down to posted events, and to find images and graphics you can use to celebrate Canada’s rich food and farm culture.

 

Celebrate the Food You Love on Canada’s Agriculture Day

We’re part of a vibrant, forward-thinking industry that feeds the world. This is something to be proud of and celebrate, whether you’re the one consuming the food or the one growing it. We have the opportunity to do that during Canada’s Agriculture Day on February 16.

Canada’s Agriculture Day is a time to come together as an industry to celebrate the business of agriculture and engage in positive dialogue about agriculture and food. It’s a time to showcase all of the amazing things happening in the industry and help consumers draw a closer connection to where their food comes from and the people who produce it.

The theme of the day is “Let’s celebrate the food we love”. And there are many ways to get involved and celebrate the day. Whether you’re interested in participating on social media, taking a personal farm or food challenge or getting your community involved, there are plenty of ways to share your love of Canadian agriculture and food. You can make it as small or as big as your imagination can make it.

Farm & Food Care encourages all farmers, agribusinesses, and consumers to think of a way of getting involved and then take action. Perhaps it’s handing out copies of The Real Dirt on Farming booklet at your local grocery store, bus station, campus centre or book club. Maybe it’s scheduling a talk to a local service club that day, or visiting a school or inviting a classroom of students to visit your farm. There are so many ways that you can celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day and show consumers how passionate you are about food and farming!

Once you’ve got a plan, post your activity to the event section at www.AgDay.ca to help extend the reach. This event page contains a complete list of activities happening in your community — many farm industry associations, businesses and Ag More Than Ever partners are hosting their own Canada’s Agriculture Day events that are open to the public. It’s all about celebrating Canadian agriculture and food in engaging, fun and respectful ways.

Here are a few additional ideas to get you started:

  • Challenge yourself to make a meal for your family with all Canadian-grown foods.
  • Snap a pic of what you’re doing and share it on social media – include hashtags like #CdnAgDay, #IWorkInAg or #FarmLife
  • Are you a foodie and huge fan of Canadian food? Use this day to ask your food questions!
  • Host a potluck and encourage your friends to use all Canadian ingredients. Tweet about it with #CdnAgDay as well as food-based hashtags, such as #LoveYourFood and #Foodie, to connect with those outside the farm audience
  • Visit AgMoreThanEver.ca and take an agvocate challenge.
  • Give back to the community by volunteering at your local food bank or soup kitchen.

For additional suggestions, check out the tip sheet at: http://bit.ly/2hRT319

Visit AgDay.ca for more ideas to celebrate Canada’s Agriculture Day and downloadable resources to help you out. The website has merchandise, graphics, message templates, print ads and more.

Farm & Food Care is proud to support Canada’s Agriculture Day and encourages everyone involved in the industry to get involved and celebrate the day in their own way!

Farming is Big Business with a Big Heart

By Serra McSymytz, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan

Throughout October, we have been celebrating Agriculture Month in Saskatchewan, a province whose primary goods-producing sector is agriculture. The theme “Our Food Has a Story” has encouraged many farmers, ranchers, and industry employees to speak up and tell their farm stories. I grew up in the farming world and have worked in the industry and even I must admit I’ve been blown away by the caring and compassion laced through every tweet, post, and picture.

The people in this industry rely on the earth, plants, and animals to support their families, futures, and freedoms. Yes, agriculture has evolved over the last fifty years. Yes, fewer farmers are managing more land. Yes, when size dictates, it makes economic sense to incorporate your operation, but that doesn’t mean the family farm has been lost to history. 97% of all Canadian farms are still family owned and operated.1

big-business-image-2-farmingfood4uHere’s an alarming statistic: there are 60% fewer farmers in Canada today than in 1901 and 548% more people to feed.2 That’s just within our borders, not to mention the hundreds of millions of tonnes of product we export to developing countries each year to help feed their people too. Talk about pressure to perform!

“…there are 60% fewer farmers in Canada today than in 1901 and 548% more people to feed.”

Thankfully, we are fortunate enough to live in a country where science and innovation are encouraged and explored. Where farmers and ranchers have the knowledge, tools and technology to grow and raise safe, healthy and affordable food in an environmentally responsible manner. Today’s farming is big business, not the simple lifestyle our grandparents grew up with. Yet, Ben Parker had it right, with great power comes great responsibility.

big-business-image-1-a-iveyWe live in the age of science and technology, where information travels far and wide and everyone has access to the latest diet craze or scientific study. Unfortunately, despite agriculture’s enormous technological advancements in the last quarter century, we haven’t put much time or energy into promoting our impressive new tools and now we need to defend them.

To the 98% of our population that has no direct connection to the farm and no way of understanding what a Flexi-Coil 5000-57FT Air Drill is, why we use ivermectin on our livestock, or spray our crops with unpronounceable chemicals like difenoconazole or saflufenacil, farming sounds scary. But, to the remaining 2%, it means no top soil loss, healthy animals, higher yields and a cleaner environment!

You’d be hard pressed to find a cattle rancher who doesn’t feed their family with meat from their herd, or a farmer who doesn’t bring his children along to check crops for disease and pests. That’s because farmers believe in the technology and production practices they use to grow our food and they want consumers to have confidence in them too.

When asked what they would like to say to non-farmers, the consensus was, “We care about our livestock, land and about producing safe food for you and your family. Wherever you’re from and whatever you do, everyone is dependent on food, so take the time to learn about how your food is really produced, from many different sources. Appreciate the efforts of farmers everywhere.”

Despite the new state of agriculture and the ever-evolving landscape of farming, our food still comes from families who care about their animals, land and growing safe, healthy, and affordable food.

1, 2 The Real Dirt on Farming, (Toronto: Farm & Food Care Foundation, 2014), 2-3.

Leaving the Barn Door Open 24/7

By Kelly Daynard, Farm & Food Care

At the turn of the 20th century, farmers made up 60 percent of the Canadian population. Today, that number has dropped to less than two percent.

This move from farms into towns and cities has led to a growing disconnect between rural and urban areas, with Canadians now often three or four generations removed from any ancestors that farmed. The agricultural industry knows from polling data that non farming Canadians want to know more about food and farming – they just often don’t know where to source accurate information. And that’s why a growing number of Canadian farmers are increasing their communications efforts – many are turning to social media to share their stories.

The issue isn’t unique to Canada or North America, though. 

Stefan Teepker

German farmer Stefan Teepker and his daughter Marit in front of the windows in the new viewing gallery he’s built on the side of his chicken barn

Stefan Teepker is a chicken, grain, and hog farmer in Northern Germany. He recently opened his farm to delegates at the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ congress (an event that’s held in a different country each year).

The 35-year-old farms in cooperation with his brother Matthias, and he’s also the honourary chairman of the “Young DLG” – a division of the German Agricultural Society for farmers aged 35 and under. Teepker is increasingly concerned about the misconceptions that exist about modern farming practices and he’s determined to do his part to change that.

“There are big discussions happening about animal welfare in this country. We have to be able to show how we produce the majority of the meat. We have to start the discussion,” he said to the visiting journalists.

For many years, he’s visited a local school twice a year, talking to students about his farm and farm animals. Those students, in turn, visit his farm as part of a forest walk program, where they’re excited to see the animals that he’s talked about.

To expand his efforts, he’s just finished building a unique viewing gallery onto the side of one of his chicken barns. He paid for the 25,000 Euro project (about $36,000 CAD) almost entirely on his own with only a 1,000 Euro grant from a farm organization.

Stefan Teepker

Anyone passing by this German chicken farm is welcome to stop in and see the birds. This viewing gallery, built on the side of the barn, is open 24 hours a day.

Their farm is near a busy highway and popular hiking and biking path. With the grand opening last week, the gallery will be open 24-hours a day. One criticism he’s heard is that farmers only show the nicest photos of their barns and animals. With the new viewing gallery, he says he’ll be able to say “come when you want.” Passersby will be able to stop in at any time to see, for themselves what’s happening and what the birds are doing.

Signage will explain the age of the chickens, what they eat and drink, how the ventilation works, where they were hatched, when and where they’ll go to market and more.

Teepker said that some farmers think the signs should be more technical, focusing on bird genetics and such. But he knows firsthand that consumers are interested in going back to the basics. The most common question he’s asked? “Where are the cages?” To which he explains that broiler chickens are always raised in a free run (floor system) barn – just like here in Canada.

Guests at the viewing gallery will also be able to buy fresh meat and eggs (provided by neighbouring farmers), from a special vending machine.

When asked whether he’s concerned about farm security as a result of the increased attention and visitors, Stefan was definite in his “no”. While he has installed security cameras, he says that they’re only meant to protect the birds and doesn’t expect problems.

He’s also created a Facebook page for the farm where he engages regularly with his 2,000 (and growing) followers. Through updates, he introduces his farm staff, talks about environmental initiatives on the farm (including solar panels and a biogas plant) and answers questions about his pigs and chickens. He also posts regular videos – the top one has 180,000 views to date.

And, new this year, the farm is sponsoring local soccer teams as another way of engaging with his community.

Are his efforts making a difference? Teepker thinks so – but emphasizes that there’s always more that can and should be done. “You see a mind shift when people come to see the farm for themselves. They don’t know what they will see if the doors are closed – so we’re opening the doors.”

You Heard Me: I Like GMOs

By Matt McIntosh, Farm and Food Care Ontario

Few issues get me fired up like biotechnology and GMOs (also known as genetically modified organisms). Biotech interests me scientifically, concerns me socially, and confounds me to no end. It’s a subject where speaking out in favour can land you in a minefield of hateful conversations, and a topic that remains hotly contested despite thirty years of discussion.

It is also, however, a subject which the scientific and agricultural community must resolutely continue discussing with the public. The catch is, it needs to be approached in a specific way — it needs to be approached with less science and more stories.

To be honest, and if you haven’t guessed already, I’m a bit of a biotech fan.

I love GMOsYes, you read that right: I LIKE GMOs.

I see biotechnology as one of a great many tools that societies around the world can use to overcome significant agricultural, economic, and environmental challenges. Is it the scientific be-all end-all? Of course not. Should it replace things like traditional breeding? Of course not. But when used in conjunction with the practices, varieties, and lessons acquired over thousands of years of agricultural history, I can’t help but be awestruck at the astounding potential this technology has.

Why, then, does the opposition to biotechnology seem more combustible than ever?  The answer, or part of the answer anyway, is simple enough – biotech supporters are great at explaining, but not-so-great at connecting.

Kevin Folta, 2016

Kevin Folta, 2016

“Biotech is a battle between fear and fact, between heart and head, and heart always wins,” says Dr. Kevin Folta, a prominent biotech proponent and professor who chairs the Horticultural Sciences department at the University of Florida.

“You can’t pound people with science and expect them to accept it. You have to show that you have interests in problems that align with theirs, and how your solutions are viable mechanisms to fix them.”

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Folta speak at the Farm & Food Care Ontario conference this past April. I fully support his message that establishing shared values and actually speaking-out is absolutely critical if we want the public to understand and accept this incredible science.

The unfortunate bit is Folta’s sentiment is not new. Indeed, the idea of communication through shared values has been one of the central themes discussed within agriculture for years. As progressive as this industry can be, though, it’s a theme that agriculture as a whole has in many ways failed to address — much to our detriment.

Personally, I can say I’ve bore witness to how effective a shared values approach can be (Farm & Food Care, my organization, has quite a few outreach initiatives). And really, if anti-GMO activists can successfully use this method – and they do – why can’t we?

For his part, I would suggest that nobody knows the highs and lows of public communication like Dr. Folta. His is a real roller-coaster tale.

During his presentation, and again in a follow-up email conversation, Folta explained that he, like many, had spent years reiterating the science behind biotechnology, but to no avail. In 2013, though, he started focusing on values and trust (what the Ancients called “pathos and ethos”), discussing how biotechnology impacts individual farmers, the goals of researchers, how communities cope and recover from diseases, and so on.

A change was noticeable almost immediately, and Folta began “changing hearts and minds” with much more success. Unfortunately for him, that success attracted the ire of characters with rather sinister intentions.

At that point, folks, the manure-slinging really started.

Through the American Freedom of Information Act, anti-biotech activists seized Folta’s email records (his research projects at the University of Florida make use of government funds, and thus he is publicly accountable). Using those records, a false narrative purporting him to be a payee and puppet of large agro-chemical companies was manufactured and spread from Vancouver to Pretoria. The incident forced Folta to defend his career, his science, his institution, and most significantly, his own credibility.

Kevin Folta speaks at the 2016 annual general meeting

Kevin Folta speaks at the 2016 annual general meeting

His name sufficiently tarred in the eyes of millions, Folta was worried his career was over.

Thankfully, the blatant lies were exposed soon thereafter, and he eventually rebounded both personally and in his career. Now, he actively discusses his passion through a number of different mediums, including a podcast (Talking Biotech), blog (kfolta.blogspot.ca), as a speaker, and as a contributor to www.GMOanswers.com – a public-facing site providing information, resources, and news on biotechnology.

On a personal level, Folta’s experience really hits home for me. It is a grand example of my significantly more minor-league experiences.  I myself have been called a “shill for big ag” while in university, working as a journalist, and even in social settings.

My experience isn’t unique either. Discussing GMOs anywhere can be both frustrating and stupefying. The willingness to over-simplify complex science into tweet-sized falsities, to blindly argue correlation automatically means causation, is astounding. Most notably of all, though, is the level of personal and sometimes even violent vitriol hurled between opponents. Just take two minutes and read the comments under a GMO-focused news article and you’ll see what I mean.

The whole business is a sickening state of affairs, and one that has consequences in ways most of us wouldn’t even consider. One that has stuck with me personally is how Folta’s unfortunate experience as a target of anti-GMO activism has turned people away from pursuing science.

“It breaks my heart,” says Folta with very visible emotion during his conference presentation. “I have potential students emailing me asking if their names would be included in public records if they work with me. They are not going into the field because they are afraid for their future. It’s absolutely devastating. “

Now, I may be a writer by trade, but I’m also a farm kid with career aspirations. I want to get back to my family’s farm. I cannot fathom being forced away from that goal by fear. The fact that fear keeps prospective scientists from pursuing their interests, from pursuing a career in which they see value for themselves and others, is abominable.

Amidst the negativity, though, it’s important to remember that recovery is possible, and that the public is actually open to what biotech supporters have to say. In fact, Folta specifically identified farmers as key players in the biotech debate. Farmers are, after all, the prime users of biotech crops, and the public wants to hear their stories. 

“Get your online real estate. Register your farm as a Twitter handle, start a blog and just share personal experiences,” says Folta. “People like me can be smeared to death (but) you’re immune from that. You’re the most competent and trusted, but we don’t talk to (the public). Right now the people that want to take out tools away are filling the void.”

Misinformation is a reality impossible to escape from, but laying down and letting misinformation macerate good, honest fact is an option no one can afford to take. As Folta’s experiences so blatantly illustrate, repeating the same-old communication strategies does not suffice. Saying nothing does not suffice. Speaking together and from the heart, however, has the potential to really tip the scales.

My dad often imparts the phrase “might as well do it now” whenever there’s a tough job to be done, with the understanding that procrastinating only makes the job more difficult. A lot of us, myself included in many ways, are way past due for taking our turn in the trenches.

Science needs good spokespeople and good stories — and agriculture the world over has both in spades.

The “S” words in agriculture

Guest blog by Brent Royce, Ontario turkey farmer

The -S- Words- (1)Over the last few years, the buzz words around lots of agricultural meetings have really evolved around the 3 S’s. These words Social License, Social Responsibility and Sustainability have really evolved from that other S word; Social Media. We as a society have changed how we receive and digest information, but I really keep asking myself how does this change how and what I do as a farmer.

As a farmer I base everything on science. I know we have some of the strongest rules in place before products can even get approved for use in Canada. Once something is approved (whether it is a new product for the barn or to use on my crops) I never jump in neck deep first.

I always try a small portion to see how it works on my farm. I want to see if the product benefits my crops, my livestock and my pocket book. I listed these in a specific order because if it won’t benefit what I am growing or if it could harm the environment around me, it doesn’t matter if it is more cost effective. I won’t use it. Oops, I guess I added another S word Science. Continue reading

There’s a new void to fill in science communication

By Dr. Maria Trainer, Managing director, science and regulatory affairs, chemistry, CropLife Canada

Maria-Trainer-768x1024As scientists we generally aren’t renowned for our communications prowess, particularly communications with the public. Many of us would rather work away in our laboratories and communicate with our peers than actively seek out opportunities to talk to the public about our work. Particularly when our work is in the field of, to use the vernacular, “genetic engineering”.

Dr. Kevin Folta ─ Professor and Chairman of the Horticultural Sciences department at the University of Florida ─ is different. A geneticist by trade, Kevin has dedicated a huge amount of his own time and energy to educating the public about the science of biotechnology and so-called “GMOs”. He’s good at it too, as you can see here in a recent address he gave to a public audience at McGill University during the 2015 Trottier Science Symposium.

The downside to being good ─ really good actually ─ at talking about the science of biotechnology is that it annoys people. Specifically it annoys those people whose cause is served by preserving and promoting widespread ignorance on the topic of GMOs. These people, and the groups they represent, depend on the public not really knowing what GMOs are but being “fairly sure they’re a bad thing”.

Since the scientific consensus on the safety of currently deployed biotechnology applications is solid, these groups have had to resort to personal attacks on the handful of scientists, like Kevin, who have been brave enough to speak up.

Read more here about how Kevin became a lightning rod for the anti-science community and the breaking point, which has left a big void to fill in science communication.

Re-posted with permission.

More than Farming: Capturing farmers and moments with Farm Boy Productions

MorethanFarmingI still remember the sideways look my dad launched across the barn back in high school when I told him I wanted to study media. It was during a morning milking that he had asked me what university programs I had applied to.

My family runs a dairy farm in Eastern Ontario. We milk 50 Jersey cows in a tie stall barn. Our land is entirely for feed crops (corn, barley, oats and alfalfa) for the cows and grass pastures. Being that I was the eldest boy in the family, there were many assumptions that I would go on to take over the farm. And while I do miss farming some days, I know I am exactly where I should be and I can always go back home to help my brothers down the road.

Bruce Sargent in his element - on farm with photography gear.

Bruce Sargent in his element – on farm with photography gear.

To my dad’s delight, I ended up at the University of Guelph studying Marketing Management and soon started Farm Boy Productions – a multi-media company focused on agricultural photography and videography. When many were skeptical of a business making videos and websites for farms and agri-business, my dad was my first and biggest supporter.

In my first year, I started by creating a horse farm video and a dairy farm website. Returning to Guelph in the fall for school, I started building a client base in western Ontario.

Very early on I knew I loved my job. Traveling to many types of farms and getting to meet farmers and their families from across Ontario is a very rewarding experience.

Now that Farm Boy Productions is my full time job, I have had five years of exposure to every part of the industry – livestock, machinery, cropping and all types of farms. I get to promote products and programs to farmers and I get to promote this amazing industry to our neighbours in the city. Continue reading

Blogger Spotlight: Sarah Schultz of Nurse Loves Farmer

We’re putting the spotlight on Canadian farmer bloggers. Each month, we’ll feature a different farmer blogger to uncover a bit about life behind the blog, on their family farm. 

 

Blogger Sarah Schultz

Blogger Sarah Schultz

Meet Sarah Schultz of Wheatland County, Alberta. She blogs at: www.nurselovesfarmer.com and is also active on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Here’s what Sarah had to say about blogging and her family’s farm in our Q and A. Continue reading

Third generation egg farmer proud to continue family tradition

By Andrew Campbell

St. Ann’s – Eggs have always been a part of Jacob Pelissero’s life. He grew up on his family farm, helping to gather eggs, feed and care for the hens. And, as an egg farmer, he’s proud of the fact that he learned to make a great omelet while he was still a child.

Third-generation egg farmer Jacob Pelissero is proud to continue the family farm tradition.

Third-generation egg farmer Jacob Pelissero is proud to continue the family farming tradition.

But for his family, the path to egg farming wasn’t direct. It didn’t come until his grandfather started losing customers in the original family business – ice. Many decades ago, that business was big around St. Catharine’s, where the family would deliver ice throughout the summer to homes to keep their ice boxes cool.

But then a remarkable new invention, the refrigerator, started making an incredible surge into homes, replacing the need for ice deliveries. Realizing that his business was collapsing, Jacob’s grandfather had to do something to support his family.

Finally it came to him. He already knew the residents of his community and which of them had purchased refrigerators. Why not provide something that could be stored in them – like farm fresh eggs. That idea started a new career for the Pelissero family and three generations later, Jacob couldn’t be happier. “Egg farming is an incredible way of life. When you take care of the chickens, they take care of you.”

On top of producing fresh eggs, his family also raises pullets. This is the term used to describe young hens from the time they’re hatched until they’re old enough to lay eggs. Once mature, the grown laying hens then move to live on egg farms across Ontario.

Pelissero has just graduated with a degree in agriculture business from the University of Guelph and is looking forward to the time when he joins his father on the family farm.

Why continue the career? “The short answer is because I enjoy it. The long answer, because I love the idea of managing my own business, and caring for the birds that have supported my family for so many years.”

One thing that he’s especially excited about is a new hen barn that was constructed last summer. The barn has a new – but increasingly popular – feature in Canada called enriched cages. These offer room for hens to lay their eggs in a curtained nest, perch, and enjoy constant access to fresh food and water that all hen housing provides. Said Pelissero, “I think this type of construction is a perfect balance between a clean and safe environment for the bird, farmer and the egg.”

This young farmer has also taken to social media to tell his family’s stories. He is a member of the new Dinner Starts Here blogging and Twitter initiative that features young farmers talking about their lives on Ontario farms.

“Talking about the effort and care that goes into every egg is something I’m proud to do, and hope other farmers do as well. It is more important than ever before that consumers understand where their food comes from.”

Pelissero also notes that part of the reason he wants to talk about his farm is because he feels there are misconceptions about egg farming. “If I can help someone understand where their egg comes from, how the birds are cared for and the quality control measures that go into producing eggs, I know that person will feel good about feeding them to their family.”

Pelissero also works part time for Gray Ridge Egg Farms, where he offers advice to other egg farmers on how they can improve their own farms through animal nutrition and egg handling. “I’m confident in every egg that is collected, washed, graded, packed and put into your local grocery store because I see what goes into ensuring that a Grade A egg is a safe and nutritious egg.”

By following the blog at www.dinnerstartshere.ca and Jacob’s tweets @Jakeandeggs, you’ll be able to learn more about what he is talking about.