February is not the most obvious time to celebrate agriculture in Canada.
But that’s exactly why the timing couldn’t be better.
People need constant reminders that agriculture is at their service 24-7, not just when they pop into the grocery store or stop by a restaurant for food. Farmers – particularly livestock farmers – never stop. If they’re not producing food, they’re planning on how they’ll do it next season. Or with growing frequency, they’re working off the farm, or on a side project, to supplement waning farm income.
The fact that most of us have no shortage of food is a reminder in itself of agriculture’s contribution to our lives. Farmers everywhere,from many nations, keep us fed. But it’s local farmers who have the most skin in the game and provide the lion’s share of what we eat. That’s a key reason why they deserve our support.
Tuesday, February 11, is officially Canada’s Agriculture Day, the fourth year it’s been recognized as such. A social media campaign is underway, asking Canadians to take a “forks up” selfie with Canadian food, and share it with the hashtag #CdnAgDay. Farm Credit Canada (FCC), the country’s biggest agricultural lender, is releasing a video as part of its campaign to help consumers understand and appreciate Canadian food.
Expect to hear messages like there’s only one degree of separation, if that,between consumers and the people who produce their food, and that the safest and highest-quality food is grown only a few kilometres from the city where they live, or processed and distributed in a plant that employs their friends and neighbours.
Farmers and others in agriculture believe Canadians care. FCC points to the survey by Guelph-based Canadian Centre for Food Integrity that showed three in five Canadians are interested in learning more about agriculture and modern farm practices.
That’s encouraging, let alone critical, because more than 90 per cent of those surveyed said they know hardly anything about it.
Here’s another message that you’ll hear: consumers want information straight from the individuals who grow food. In the food integrity centre’s research, farmers were viewed ahead of other trusted sources – health professionals, researchers and government officials among them – in providing information about food and food production.
So, the door is wide open for farmers to talk to the public.
The problem is, there are almost 38 million Canadians … and about 193,000 farms. So agriculture needs a well-oiled communications machine to connect with consumers and explain how food is produced. Presently, despite sincere regional efforts, that simply doesn’t exist. We know the federal government is planning a Buy Canadian campaign, which is a good start. But a sustained effort is vital.
Why? As FCC points out, supporting Canadian-produced food and food products means consumers are supporting the local and Canadian economies. The sector has been growing at an average of three per cent over the past five years, a full per cent stronger than Canada’s overall manufacturing sector over the same period.
The figures are significant. FCC says that in 2018, Canada’s food and beverage manufacturing sector – which includes meat and dairy processing, grain and oilseed milling, and fruit and vegetable preserving – produced goods valued at over $117 billion, accounting for roughly 250,000 jobs nationwide. Many of those are in rural areas.
But stories – not figures – are what pull at consumers’ heart strings. I believe Canadians want to support farmers in this country, know them better and develop a deeper understanding of agricultural practices.
That will require a constant, concerted effort by agriculture.
Forks up to farmers.