Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Suzanne Armstrong, CFFO Director of Research
Agriculture in the Classroom Canada has declared March Agricultural Literacy Month. Along with their various provincial branches, including AgScape in Ontario, the initiative provides educational resources for teaching about agriculture in the classroom and has expanded from a week to a full month because of the demand from educators.
But agricultural literacy is not just for young students. All eaters can benefit from a greater understanding of how farming works here in Canada to bring us nutritious, safe food raised to high sustainability standards.
Canada’s Next Policy Framework for agriculture, which will follow Growing Forward 2 in 2018, includes focus on building consumer trust in our agricultural system. As the Canadian government website describes, as part of this priority area it will focus on “sharing the story of the importance of the sector and the modern, responsible and sustainable practices it uses.”
Agricultural literacy is part of overall food literacy. With demographic shifts in our society, not only are far fewer people directly connected to farms and farming, cooking at home has also declined.
People are less in touch and involved with their food at every step along the way before it makes it to their plates, or more likely their microwavable dish or take-out container. What difference might better food literacy make to problems like reducing food waste, or even getting more people to use green bins properly?
Better Ag literacy among the general population would also make it harder for marketers to confuse consumers with misleading labels, such as “GMO free” on foods like tomatoes or wheat where GMO versions are not commercially available in the market place, or “hormone free” for chickens raised in Canada, where hormones have in fact been banned from use since 1963.
Still there is good news. Local food movements have been successful in fostering more direct connection between farmers and eaters. We have vibrant farmers’ markets all across the province, and agri-tourism is also thriving in Ontario.
This is a great way to get people connected to seasonal food and foster a better appreciation of the value of the diverse crops and productive farmland found in Ontario. However, this is only one part of our whole agricultural industry. Farmers need to make the effort to tell the positive story of agriculture, both local and export market-oriented, both big and small.
Most important perhaps in fostering better agricultural literacy is that a better educated consumer will also be a better educated shopper and voter. We need citizens who are able to engage more fully in the ethical debates surrounding our food system and our agricultural policies in Ontario and Canada.
Debates about farm animal welfare, the environmental impact of eating meat, or land use policy for protecting farmland all require some knowledge of the practices of farming and consideration of the wider value farming provides to our health, economy and environment. Better educated eaters, young and old, will only benefit farming as a whole.