Want the truth known? Help ag in the classroom broaden its influence



owenSometimes, people who understand agriculture – farmers, for example – are reluctant to enter into a public forum to talk about the profession they love.

Other times, they’ll stand up and speak voluntarily, as leaders of their commodity organization or farm group.

But on at least one occasion, others still will actually pay for the opportunity to tell the world what’s on their mind.

And if you’re energized by what’s becoming known as agvocacy, you’ll be glad to know these numbers are growing.

Next month, the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture (CYSA) competition will be publicly staged for the 28th time, at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. There, 45 young people – a record number of participants — from across the country will pay a $40 participation fee (not to mention travel and other expenses, offset in part by a grant from John Deere) to stand shoulder to shoulder with others in the fair’s presentation theatre, and tell the world what’s on their mind.

Their delivery vehicle is a 5-7 minute speech, based on topics offered up well in advance by the competition’s board of directors. Participants state their chosen topic when they register, and this year by far the most popular choice is not the family farm (my prediction), a look into the future (my second prediction) or essential technologies (my third prediction )– but rather, should agriculture be in the curriculum?

Students in my agricultural communications class at the University of Guelph take part in the competition, and in an in-class speak-off they likewise overwhelmingly chose the curriculum topic. Their content varied, but for the most part they said the school system is the place agvocacy is most likely to have a lasting impression. Pro-farming campaigns and anti-farming watchdogs have a role, they say, but getting to youngsters as soon as possible with facts about farming is really the way to go.

That way, when they become adults or hear people take positions on agriculture, they’ll be better positioned to know what’s fact and what’s opinion.

Of course, agriculture in the classroom programs already exist, and program organizers work hard to gather resources that will interest teachers. But my students believe teachers don’t have enough opportunities in the curriculum to use agricultural resources – or perhaps don’t understand why agriculture is important.

So, there’s two challenges. The farm sector needs to back up whatever pleas program organizers are making provincially for more curriculum exposure for teachers. As well, the sector needs to stay in the face of decision makers, with clear messages about agriculture’s importance to the economy, health and the environment.

That’s how more agriculture will get into the curriculum.

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