Saturday, 24 March 2012

Who Will Put the Culture in Agriculture?

One of the balls I have in the air is developing a primary research experience for urban kids at the very rural connected event called Farmfair held every fall in Edmonton in conjunction with Canadian Finals Rodeo. It is my firm belief that the majority of people living in cities are far removed from any understanding of who/what/where/how and when food arrives on their tables.
This blog will not be a finger pointing exercise. It is just an observation about how it is that in a place where a 40 minute drive in any direction can still put you on the spot where pieces of the human being food chain grow, there are many who have not seen a real, live cow or smelled for themselves the clean, fresh fragrance of flowering canola. This is a rich mystery and fertile ground for all kinds of inquiry – even by me.
I grew up in Alberta in a time when almost everyone had a farm somewhere in their family, even if they themselves lived in the city. But I am, by my own admission, old, and those times and demographic trends long gone. And here I am learning all about the power of technology to teach and reach in many ways I never imagined.
I know in my heart, though, and based on many years of teaching experience, that you just cannot make many connections to some ideas if a human being does not have a real-life sensory experience to build on.
This past Thursday evening, one made memorable by another spring dump of snow that turned the Edmonton streets into a driving obstacle course (cue Ian Tyson’s Spring Time in Alberta) I attended Who Put the Culture in Agriculture? an enthusiastic production of the U of A class of Animal Science 200. I smiled, laughed, tapped my toe and even sang a few lines of choruses along with the family and friends of the students as they explored some of the people who have had an impact on our food and lives. It was clear from the video presentations they had gone out and done some hands-on learning (if only to catch some memorable video footage) and interviewed experts to get the low down on the person or concept their group was exploring.
To be honest their audience was a group of insiders who got most of the jokes. A trio of senior class presenters were wrestling with the question of how to make consumers more knowledgeable about their food.
I am confident I have one answer – it is to start with kids and we need to make all the ways that food gets from the farm to the fork real, through concrete experience and the opportunity to ask questions from experts of all kinds.
So that is one of the balls I am working to move high into the air. There will be more about it here as the fall draws near.
If you want a see-it-with-your-own-eyes experience you might consider checking out the Farm and Ranch Show at Northlands, March 29-31. It is a consumer show here in the city for the rancher and farmer where you could learn about the pieces of business they need to invest in to bring food to your fork. Go do some primary research of your own.

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