When you’re wrapped up in the day-to-day business of farming in rural Canada it’s difficult to believe that less than two per cent of Canadians know how to do what is second nature to you. Turning it around, 98 per cent of Canadians don’t farm and 52 per cent admit they know very little or nothing about agriculture. Many are thrilled to meet a real farmer.
That’s been the experience of young Ontario farmers who have become ambassadors for their own industry by manning displays, making presentations, talking with consumers and media, writing letters to editors of local newspapers, and offering farm tours.
“It’s all aimed at breaking down sterotypes to make farming more accessible and less mysterious,” explains Kelly Daynard, program manager for the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC). The council has developed an array of online print and visual aids, as well as training workshops for farmers to help them gain the confidence and skills to be able to effectively tell their stories to the general public.
It all began a decade ago when both the hog and cattle industries were facing crisis situations. At the time, Daynard was with the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, and OFAC executive director Crystal MacKay was with the Ontario Pork Producers. “Both of us found that media wanted producers to talk with, not someone
behind a desk, but it was difficult to find farmers who were willing to talk to media,” Daynard comments.
One of their key initiatives in their prior careers and now with OFAC is to host public speaking sessions for Ontario farmers to help them communicate with urban audiences by explaining what they do in language t the general public understands. The principles are the same whether you’re speaking with media, at a town hall meeting, touring school children around the farm, or chatting with a stranger at the grocery store.
The Ontario Young Ambassador Program grew from there. OFAC packaged up the information and offered training for agriculture students at the University of Guelph and other agricultural colleges across Ontario, as well as dairy educators and fall-fair ambassadors. Daynard says the response has been great and they’ve been able to build up a roster of dynamic young kids from the university, 4-H clubs and the junior farmer program who are more than willing to help man booths at major events.
“These kids are so proud to have been raised on farms,” Daynard says. “And who better than a young farmer to attract other young people to the booth?”
Since then, OFAC has put together an AgAwareness Tool Kit (ideas for giving presentations and designing displays) and a number of other products to help farmers give a convincing argument about why consumers should care about farming and farmers. OFAC works closely with its sister groups in other provinces, therefore, the materials have been designed with a Canadian audience in mind.
Last November, OFAC received a Canadian Agri-Food Award of Excellence for outstanding achievement and leadership in the Agricultural Awareness and Education category.
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