Ontario’s Agriculture In The Classroom program, called AgScape, delivered more than 600 lessons about agriculture and food to nearly 15,000 students in the province in 2019.
That’s a whopping three times as many as 2018. And it certainly helps give more students factual, science-based insight into where their food comes from and how the multi-billion-dollar industry here works.
“Teachers are hearing about us and asking for our services,” new executive director Taylor Selig said in an interview earlier this week.
But surprisingly, requests for 200 more lessons went unfulfilled because this non-profit charity didn’t have the resources to deliver them.
And even though a significant number of students benefitted from the connection their teachers made with AgScape, the program is still just skimming their surface, when you consider there are about two million students in total the province.
To me, it’s incredible that in a province where agriculture is such a vital industry, and where misunderstandings about agricultural production are running rampant, such a shortfall would exist.
But Selig says that scenario may be poised for change. AgScape has made the move to virtual education this school year, meaning its teacher ambassadors will no longer have to physically place themselves in classrooms. Travel can be a limiting factor for the teacher ambassadors.
As well, AgScape is hiring as many as 10 new teacher ambassadors to deliver online lessons.
Combined, these measures should help AgScape do its vital work.
“We’re excited about the momentum we’re gaining,” says Selig. “Here at AgScape we think that 2020, especially the stresses and worries about our food supply chains during the onset of the pandemic, have demonstrated the need for a public that is well educated about our food system.”
That’s for sure. Every season it seems like we write columns or stories that say there’s never been a more important time for the agriculture and food sector to tell its story. But the reasoning behind those previous imperatives seem shallow and hollow now, compared to the confusion that erupted this year around food security.
Selig, a native of North Dumfries township, gets it. In a former role with an organization called Free The Children, he witnessed food security challenges first hand, when leading youth trips to India and Kenya.
Food security is an issue here, too – not on the same level as Selig’s experienced abroad, but definitely in a way that’s never been experienced here before.
So with noble intentions, AgScape is gearing up to increase its reach and spread the word… not only to clear up misconceptions, but also to promote career opportunities in agriculture.
Jobs chronically go unfulfilled in the sector. Few teachers understand it, so why would they steer their students to it? The same goes for parents, most of whom aren’t positioned to get their kids excited about jobs in food production or processing, because they don’t understand it themselves, or still subscribe to myths that the sector is outdated and technologically backwards. That’s yet another reason why classroom education is imperative.
AgScape also began its 2020 fundraising campaign this week to further its classroom work. Selig says they’ll consider themselves successful when they can meet demand and their program is sustainable.
To do that that’ll they’ll need a lot more support. Ontario’s program exists on a fraction of the per-student commitment as other provinces.
“We have a dynamic and tech-forward industry that embraces sustainability,” says Selig.” Adults will never know the truth of agriculture if we don’t connect with students.”