If there is one universal annoyance that virtually everyone in the agriculture industry shares, it’s the blissful ignorance of the urban public about where food really comes from and agriculture in general. Many city folks either believe food appears magically at grocery stores, or they just don’t care as long as it’s cheap and always available.
The conventional wisdom is that if consumers were made more aware, then agriculture would be much more appreciated. I expect better awareness applies to a lot of issues, but it’s hard to educate people about food production when there is an overabundance available everywhere.
In lieu of starvation to focus consumers’ attention, governments and producer groups have tried education as an avenue to better inform the urban public. It’s a process that has gone on under various efforts for at least 40 years in Alberta. The problem these programs have is that they are chronically underfunded and in many cases rely on volunteers or just goodwill to carry out the message. The provincial government gets involved sporadically, but it’s usually never enough.
The underlying issue in trying to educate the consumer about agriculture is that there is no real payoff for the investment of time and money by the ag industry or the government. The entire effort seems to be more of a feel-good exercise for producers, because in the end even a consumer who is well informed about agriculture isn’t likely to buy any more food than before.
Having said all that, another industry promotion organization has sprung up and taken up the torch to educate the public about agriculture. The new organization called Agriculture for Life strives to support agriculture education and farm safety programs. To date it has put its money where its month is and invested $1.2 million into such well-known programs as Classroom Agriculture Program, Little Green Thumbs and a number of other initiatives across the province. The idea is to expose many more Alberta youth to agriculture and its role in our society. To say the least the support and leadership of this new group is very much appreciated.
A big concern in the past has been the lack of significant support and participation by agribusiness and related organizations in the ag education process. Many of the early efforts relied on support from producer groups with limited funding or the fickle interest of government. Agribusiness was conspicuous by its absence in many of those early efforts. However the new group seems to have been initiated and financed by some of the big dogs in the agriculture business amongst them Agrium, ATB, UFA, RME. Even the energy industry has joined in the effort with the likes of PennWest, TransCanada and ATCO. The owner of this publication, Glacier Media, is also a significant supporter. When big players like this get involved it tends to create a rolling snowball effect as others want to get involved. This all bodes very well for agriculture education and farm safety programming everywhere.
One ponders when and why all this agribusiness enthusiasm suddenly started considering the long history of ag programs operating from hand to mouth. But it is most welcome indeed. Next time a few comments on what other areas some of this new-found support could be directed to.