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More than just “cows and plows”

The groundwork to help close the huge gap between what we should know about agriculture, compared to what we actually do know, took a step forward Wednesday.

The province announced it was giving $400,000 to AgScape, the organization entrusted with agricultural education in the classroom and helping to deliver agri-food learning and promote careers in agriculture, where so many jobs go unfulfilled every day, month and year.

AgScape delivers curriculum-linked learning materials and programming to teachers and classrooms across the province. The province says the money will help students learn about food production, the links between food, farming and health, and how to get involved and build a successful career in the agri-food industry.

With the government’s support, AgScape will expand its Teacher Ambassador Program, deliver its Agri-Trekking Across Ontario interactive game, host learning events such as Agri-Career Competitions and develop curriculum-linked learning resources.

Ernie Hardeman, Ontario’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, has long been a booster of getting young people more involved in agriculture.

“When students learn the ABCs of the agri-food industry, they’ll quickly realize that it’s so much more than cows and plows – it’s a driving force for innovation and economic growth in our province,” he says. “Giving teachers and students the tools to learn about agri-food will help shape our next generation of leaders and achievers.”

Adds Stephen Lecce, Ontario Minister of Education: “Teaching kids about how food is grown and produced will help inspire more youth to enter the fast-growing agriculture sector and attain good-paying jobs.”

The key to all this is what AgScape executive director Glenna Banda had to say about the support.

“Through this project, more students will be curious, conscious and will think critically as they explore their food choices and careers in the industry,” she said.

For that reason alone, AgScape should be flush with money from all sources – the government, yes, but the agri-food sector in particular.

Critical thinking is key to society accepting farmers’ products, to people understanding how and why farmers use technology, and that it’s actually good for sustainability and holding down the cost of food.

Education is also key to appreciating manufacturers’ role in the food system, particularly in processing, why some crops need to be processed in order for humans to consume them, and why processing can add value to commodities, provided it doesn’t add copious quantities of sugar, salt and fat.

This understanding in society is called agricultural literacy. It follows agricultural education, or at least it’s supposed to, depending on who’s educating who.

That’s why the ag sector needs to step up and support AgScape. Who do you want educating children about the agri-food system – teachers, or bloggers? I say teachers, following a provincially approved curriculum. That’s what AgScape delivers: balanced information about agriculture.

This kind of agricultural education can help lead to a more agriculturally literate society. I believe those who produce food understand that. Now, they have to get behind such efforts, like the province did.

Yes, it’s a cost, in an industry that already works on very slim margins. But consider the ramifications of trying to sell into an agriculturally illiterate society, and the cost will seem much more like an investment than an expense.

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