Fireside chats take the chill off Canada’s Agriculture Day

Farmers don’t need to be reminded they’re active in many ways in the winter, but the public does.That’s part of what’s driving the timing of Canada’s first-ever national agriculture day.

The architects of the February 16 event, #CdnAgDay — Agriculture More Than Ever, Agriculture in the Classroom, and Farm & Food Care – want to send a message to other Canadians that farming is a year-round pursuit, even when few can see it.

They’re encouraging people in agriculture to sing the praises of the industry and organize events that will bring farming to the fore, during what is often a forgotten time, a time not really considered food production season.

Of course, it is, especially for livestock farmers.

But if someone’s main exposure to Canadian farming is through farmers’ markets and leisurely farm visits in nice weather, February is a challenging month. Most high-profile food promotion events and activities are held during what’s thought of as the local food season, which spans the spring through the fall.

That effort to remind people about agriculture is inspiring some creative approaches. For example, a program called Taste Real in Wellington County is promoting an initiative called Eat Up Your February. It’s designed to showcase local food options, and support farms and food retailers in what is generally considered the off season for local food.

In February, selected locations throughout Wellington County and Guelph are offering specials, deals, local food menus and samples as part of the Taste Real Experience.

And in Ottawa, on Canada’s Agriculture Day, a Farm Management Canada webinar with a decidedly warm approach will feature what’s being billed as “fireside chats” that support the theme “The Future is Bright.”

One chat will focus on young people discussing their role in meeting the global food challenge. Another will feature the CEO from McDonald’s Canada and two producers talking about sustainability. A third address will be from speaker Zenia Tata, on the role that innovation and youth play in agriculture. And finally, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Lawrence MacAulay will bring greetings.

High profile efforts like this that support Canadian farming are important for reminding Canadians about the sector, and for keeping energy levels up when they’re waning.

From a public awareness perspective, agriculture day needs to be every day. On February 15 and 16, I’ll be in Winnipeg at CropConnect 2017 and at the University of Manitoba, talking with producers and researchers about why now’s the time for agriculture to have a regular and sustained presence in mainstream media, and how to do it.

In a nutshell, that effort is centred on farmers telling their stories about how they produce food, and by developing a relationship with the public through the media.

I know this takes time, and time is in short supply. But for sustainability, I believe communications needs to be as much a part of farm management as any other aspect, and I hope you agree.

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