Farmers, Aging People: An Opportunity to be Opinion Leaders

The Healthy Aging Network's Hilary Dunn, resource participant Bob Paul, and professor Alison Duncan. Photo by Liz Snyder.

We know we need to get to young people early with messages about agriculture, so they grow up with a reality-based appreciation of what it takes to produce food.

But what about “old” people, those the politically correct call “aging” people (which, chronologically speaking, includes everyone)?

Admittedly, if life is like a hockey game, aging people are in the third period. As such, some might dismiss them.

But they’re not out of it yet. Far from it. In fact, they’re a vibrant demographic, Canada’s fastest growing age group. In this country, Statistics Canada says more individuals are over the age of 65 than under the age of 14.

hands baking tartsThey are also full of key influencers and decision makers, people who still lead a lot of opinion in this country.

They are less removed from farming than their younger counterparts. But still, they are not exactly familiar with what’s up with production agriculture.

They need, and want, to be up to date on food. They require food that is going to keep them as healthy as possible, for as long as possible. If it’s local, all the better.

But they also want to know how to prepare it so it doesn’t end up as food waste.

That’s where University of Guelph researcher Alison Duncan comes in. She’s from the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences. Besides being a successful researcher, Duncan is a dietitian with an affinity towards healthy, homegrown food. She is continually on the look-out for new dietary ways to try to keep people healthy.

To that end, she and her team, including Hilary Dunn, project manager for the Agri-food for Health Aging network, worked with farm groups and senior citizen groups to create a food recipe resource especially for the aging population. It’s being unveiled at this year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, on now in Toronto, and will be released online early in the New Year.

Some would call it a cook book, but it’s more than that. The resource is actually an online tool for better health, says Duncan. It’s filled with 52 recipes, each of which make mention of recipe-specific farm facts, nutrition facts, cooking tips, or testimonials from older adults or farmers.

The content of the recipe resource is evidence-based, with complete scientific references available to support the information presented.

“The intent of this project was to create a resource that would showcase the links between agriculture, food and healthy aging, while providing older adults with a tool they would enjoy using,” she says. “It’s really allowed us to showcase the amazing potential for Ontario agriculture to improve the lives of older adults through healthy foods. It has been exciting to interact with both growers and older adults in this process.”

Fruit pears kitchenI was fortunate to speak to Duncan’s master’s students last week about communications. We spoke about the classic communications model, with a sender, a message, a medium and a receiver, and particularly the emergence of opinion leaders, those trying to influence the action of the receiver.

Should they be believed? Should we buy what they’re selling? The opinion leader’s thoughts on such matters are highly sought after.

Opinion leaders sometimes lead the news. But mostly, they chime in when the deed’s been done, and the time-starved public is interested in their learned opinion, so they can form theirs.

Well, no one is more experienced about food production than farmers, creating an amazing opportunity to speak out about important topics, with credibility.

Same goes for aging people. They can say what needs to be said. They don’t need to be cool, to be influenced by trends. They can lead opinion on food, and lead others to what they’ve found.

Farmers across Canada, are you making efforts to reach them?

Professor Duncan did. The idea of the recipe resource percolated from a discussion among colleagues. It’s hoped it will have a coalescing effect and draw people together…because what’s more unifying than food, and what could be better for Ontario farmers than to have one of the largest demographics drawn to them for health?

With files from Katarina Doma

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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2 Comments

Eric Jorgensen

Great to hear this idea connecting our elders with “we are what we eat”. Love to share this with some chronic disease management and homecare staff when it comes out. Ej

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