‘Farm boy’ says earning the country’s highest civilian honour is ‘a win for agriculture’
If Kim McConnell had his way, he’d take all of the agricultural industry with him when he receives his Order of Canada at Rideau Hall. It’s an honour for him, but also an honour for all of agriculture.
“About a month ago, I got a call and they told me this was going to happen and I went ‘Holy Kerschmoly!’” said the nationally known ag advocate who lives in Okotoks.
He has no idea who nominated him for the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour. McConnell is one of 77 Canadians who will be joining the order this year, and the only one representing agriculture.
When a government official called him to tell him about his investiture a month ago, he asked who had nominated him, and what he had been nominated for. He was told it was because of his contributions to agriculture, but still has no idea who nominated him.
“If you find out, by golly, tell me, because I’m very interested. But I guess in the big scheme, it doesn’t really matter. What an honour! Just what an honour.”
McConnell can now wear the Order of Canada lapel pins, and add CM after his name. He will be inducted in one of the three ceremonies held at Rideau Hall later this year, and will be accompanied by wife Carolyn and three guests.
McConnell is thrilled by the appointment, but isn’t letting it go to his head. He’d like to see more people in agriculture receive this type of award.
“If we look at our great industry called the agri-food industry — the size, the scope, the contribution that we give in so many areas to the country — and the lack of people who have been honoured and recognized, that’s a bit disappointing,” he said.
He hopes that changes soon.
“I think this industry has contributed a ton to our country,” he said. “Not to take away from authors and hockey players and whatever else there is. But by golly, there’s a lot who have contributed a whole bunch to make Canada and the Canadian agricultural and food industry and rural Canada strong. I’d like to see a few more.”
McConnell has a lifelong involvement and passion for agriculture.
“I’m very proud to say that I’m a farm boy from Hamiota, Manitoba,” he said.
He actually hails from the now defunct town of McConnell (a few kilometres north of Hamiota) and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in agriculture. He started an agriculture-focused marketing and communications firm in the basement of his house. That organization later became AdFarm, which now has offices throughout North America.
McConnell stepped down as CEO about 10 years ago, but is still involved with the company.
“I still do projects for AdFarm and our clients, and then I get to be able to play,” he said.
He now devotes himself to his areas of interest — specifically youth and the entrepreneurial spirit — and mentors four young emerging businesses.
“And then I also put a bunch of time into what I think is the greatest youth leadership program in Canada, that being 4-H,” he said. “On 4-H, I’m proud to say that I was a member of the McConnell 4-H Beef Club.”
McConnell has always believed that agriculture has tremendous potential, and by stepping away from AdFarm, he was able to involve himself in initiatives to further the industry. One was the Straw Man Beef Initiative to advance the Canadian beef industry which he undertook with David Andrews and John Kolk. The trio’s comprehensive report sparked a chain of events, including the creation of a national beef strategy, McDonald’s choosing this country for its global sustainable beef pilot, and the founding of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
“I didn’t have anything to do with any of those, but we were kind of a catalyst to help that happen,” he said.
McConnell has also been involved in activities to build public trust in agriculture, and along with others, helped make sure that public trust is one of the four pillars included in the next agriculture policy framework.
“I am very passionate about agriculture and our food industry,” he said.
He currently sits on the board for Genome Canada, the Canadian 4-H Council, the Calgary Stampede Foundation and the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity.
McConnell was inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2012.