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Nothing is more important than ag and food education

I can’t imagine anything more important to the agriculture and food sector – or to society, for that matter – than a greater emphasis on food-production education in schools.

Nothing can be better for farmers than to have kids, urban or rural, come home after school and be able to explain food production to parents who may well have more questions than answers themselves.

And nothing can be more important for the public’s trust than to have consumers and decision makers who make buying choices and create policies about agriculture and food  – one of our most basic human needs – based on knowledge, not fear.

Here’s why. By the middle of the century, the number of Ontarians aged 15-64 years old is projected to increase by two million. Some of these people are in school today and know little if anything about how food is produced and where it comes from. And nearly 70 per cent of them live in large urban centers. So it’s easy to see why they need education to knowledgeable choices about food and agriculture.

That’s where the national organization Agriculture in the Classroom – Canada comes in. Across the country, it works with nine provincial member organizations to, in its words, “equip students and educators with the tools they need to have a balanced and informed understanding of agriculture and food.”

In Ontario, agriculture in the classroom programs are delivered by an organization called AgScape. Its Ontario-certified teacher ambassadors are paid supply-teacher rates. They respond to requests from classroom teachers to deliver lessons on the likes of climate change, biotechnology, local food and the most popular topic, careers.

Over the last year, AgScape’s been on a roll, having increased lesson delivery by 166 per cent. It needs to be this robust to meet demand: Two million of Canada’s 5.5 million students are in Ontario.

The national organization has launched a fundraising campaign to try to raise one dollar – $5.5 million in all – for every student in the country, to help with program development and delivery. Most lately, it’s activities also include working towards having a common framework for agriculture in the classroom across provinces.

Late last week, about 30 representatives from throughout Ontario’s agriculture and food sector – fruit and vegetable growers, Christian farmers, seed and fertilizer dealers, among them – gathered at the University of Guelph Arboretum centre to contribute to the framework’s development. It’s one of nearly a dozen such meetings that will be taking place across the country this winter and spring.

Among the topics covered were whether Ag in the Classroom programs should branch out beyond the classroom. With provincial resources for education being increasingly challenged, there’s hardly enough money available to pay regular classroom teachers, let alone support programs that once were staples.

For example, would more on-farm education be useful to enhance students’ understanding of agriculture and food production? Absolutely. What about visiting ag and food-related labs at the University of Guelph and elsewhere to learn what biotechnology is about, and see it in action? That would be enlightening, for sure.

In an era of lifelong learning, a bigger question is what constitutes a classroom once primary and secondary education is over. There’s no question the Canadian population at large could use help learning about food production.

But for now, Ag in the Classroom has its hands full with the millions of students who need its services. Simply put, its importance can’t be overstated.

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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