Teaching resource helps students learn about pigs

It’s great to see two important ag interests coming together to help school children better understand an important farming sector.

On Wednesday, AgScape, the non-profit organization dedicated to bringing agriculture and food into Ontario classrooms, announced it had teamed up with Ontario Pork – the organization representing the 1,143 farmers who market 5.8 million hogs in the province – for a new, curriculum-linked resource for Ontario teachers. It’s called An Exploration of Pig Farming in Ontario, Teacher Guide for Grades 5-10.

The title isn’t flashy. But the intent should be on a marquee.

AgScape says food production in Ontario is a story worth being told in our classrooms. That’s so true. Executive director Tyler Selig says delivering resources like this to teachers is an integral step towards creating a new generation of food literate citizens.

“A key aspect of Ontario Pork and AgScape’s shared missions is to engage and inspire the next generation about the agriculture and food industry, so that they can make informed decisions and consider the diverse career opportunities within the sector,” he says. “This resource will play an important role in bridging that gap within the classroom.”

Stacey Ash, manager of communications and consumer marketing at Ontario Pork, says the disconnect between farmers can allow misinformation to take root.

“It can cause people to question the quality and value of food businesses that they don’t fully understand,” she says.

Here’s what the new resource is all about. At 68 pages, it contains three unique lesson plans for Grades 5-6, 7-8, and 9-10. It also has a comprehensive list of relevant and useful resources for educators, that teacher can also access through the AgScape website.

Topics covered include the history of pig farming, pig production and terminology, pig farming and the Canadian economy, human nutrition and health, and pig farming and the environment.

I can see students – particularly those unfamiliar with farming, which are the vast majority – getting a lot out of topics like this.

Granted, the new resource is developed with input from the industry, which can always raise questions about bias.

But as an organization, Ontario Pork represents farmers. And farmers have credibility. In a culture of misinformation, where people are looking for honesty and someone to believe in regarding farming, farmers are the ones to believe. They have more to lose by spreading misinformation than anyone.

So, for that matter, does AgScape. It can hardly afford to be mired in propaganda.

And pork production is pertinent to a lot of people. As food prices rise, consumers are on the lookout for affordable protein. In the world of meat, it’s hard to beat pork prices. Same with nutrition. Through careful breeding for leanness that started decades ago, pork has become a high nutrition, low-fat choice (bacon aside, of course). Nutritionists are big fans of pork.

But what about students? Well, they can’t be expected to know much about agriculture unless someone tells them. And although they might not be actually making purchasing decisions now, they are certain key influencers in their parents’ food purchasing decisions.

And with the meatless meat movement continually gaining steam, any deeper conversation and understanding about livestock production is important.

Ontario’s pork industry generates $2.7 billion in economic output and 15,339 in full-time equivalent jobs. It’s traditionally been one of the most research-intensive commodities in Ontario. 

And while those statistics are important, they won’t turn today’s students into tomorrow’s wise consumers. That transformation takes education and dedicated teachers with balanced information. Let’s watch for their reaction to this new resource from AgScape and Ontario Pork.

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