A reporter standing in a farmer’s field opened her newscast with this statement: “I never thought of agriculture being part of food but it is true! They are related. We get food from agriculture!”
This person was honestly quite excited about this new revelation and their first road trip down a dirt road.
As the reporter was signing off on this spring feature, she excitedly informed listeners that it was now time to “go harvest.” The person who owned the farm just nodded politely and waited before assisting the now windblown and dirt-stained reporter back to paved and level ground.
This little story brings us to a reality check.
The urban reporter — who is educated and living in the land of food diversity with easy access to a multitude of farms — lacked exposure to the business of agriculture and the simple discussion of where food comes from. This reflects a gap in our society, and in our academic system. It needs addressing. Farmers cannot expect consumers to walk with them if that consumer does not understand the value of food production or if they have never been to a farm.
It is tough to break into a curriculum with food production studies in the early stages as teachers are busy, but this is so necessary and agriculture in the classroom is an important tool. This contact with a real farmer not only educates children on food production but may potentially ignite an interest in farming, fishing or food processing.
Further along in a child’s education, there is also a gap. Food for teens is easy to access in a takeout container or at the school cafeteria without any instruction on how that food was grown or who does this amazing work.
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It is here where food starts to be taken for granted (when it can be afforded), and patterns of behaviour (such as wasting food) are developed. It is also a time of wanting to belong, and nutritious food might be exchanged for drinks that are carbonated, iced, or full of sugar or caffeine.
In higher education, only a handful of universities and colleges in Canada are focused on food production, and even fewer have a food systems degree that hooks together all the links in the food chain. And though food and agriculture are deeply connected and, in fact, interdependent, one can go through their entire academic career and not once be introduced to the concepts of agriculture as a public good or as an economic driver. Nor is food or agriculture known as a social or justice connector and the building block of community.
Children in city schools are not the only ones blind to agriculture. In agricultural colleges, many students have never left the farm or travelled outside the community they lived in. That gives a rather narrow lens to food production and agricultural practices. How it was done on their farm might be the only way that is known to them, and that leads to a long list of assumptions and limiting attitudes.
Exposing rural children is as important as exposing urban children to the diversity in food production.
Even more critical is the business of food and farming and the introduction to financial literacy. Start early! Using agriculture to teach about business, environment, language and math is both exciting and interesting. Overlaying the different aspects of food production with social studies not only refreshes the course but teaches valuable lessons on acceptance. For example, it does not matter what colour the hand was that grew that food, the Earth responded.
Cooking is not only a science, but it is one way to create a pathway back to the farm and to introduce concepts of collaboration and community. Every food system starts at the community level, therefore every family unit is part of the food system — even if they live in an apartment and eat takeout. The education is in the connection between food and farming.
Just as the reporter was so surprised to learn about agriculture as the foundation of her next meal, so too are farmers taken aback that folks may not understand how food comes to the plate.
But in all things there is an opportunity. It starts with broadening our horizons at our rural home to fully appreciate all the different ways that food may be produced and prepared. Communities must be encouraged to incorporate agriculture as part of their urban or rural development plan. Parents can participate in and encourage schools to teach simple lessons on where food comes from and why this is an important business. And taxpayers should insist on multidisciplinary food systems courses at colleges and universities.
If a reporter does not know about the deep connection between agriculture and food, it is because there is an educational and academic void. Our challenge is to ensure that every school and faculty honours and appreciates food production as a core function within all disciplines.
Simply starting the conversation will spur curiosity and could lead to the change we need within our educational systems.