Over a hundred thousand people, including our family, visited the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair in Brandon, Manitoba, last week. The list of things the kids wanted to see had three things on it: horses, the SuperDogs, and all the farm animals.
Given the size of the crowd in the ‘Thru the Farmgate’ area, there’s no question people love farm animals and learning about farming. At times it was the busiest part of the maze that is Brandon’s Keystone Centre. (To use some ag lingo, the stocking density of humans was definitely much higher than in the animals’ pens or what’s allowed in a real-life barn.)
With live animal displays featuring beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, laying hens, broiler chickens and more at different ages and stages of production, along with booths on grain farming, 4-H and other types of farming, the exhibits in Brandon and other ag education events like it require major investments by farm organizations. It’s not cheap or easy to build these displays and organize the logistics behind them.
There’s also a significant investment for the farmers and ag industry people who commit time away from their farm to working at these booths.
But it dawned on me as we wandered among the masses on Friday, not only are the people who visited these exhibits better off in terms of understanding where their bacon or eggs come from, the farmers who signed up to work at the booths are also better off.
Whether they realized it or not, they were also learning.
Sure, there were some questions and comments that we snicker about inside our ag circles, but I overheard plenty of legitimate anecdotes reflecting the things people like, things they don’t like, and —maybe most important — things they don’t understand about farming and food. Do these animals get antibiotics? They look comfortable. Why are there no roosters? What do they eat? Where do these animals go from here? Why can’t we touch or hold them? Where would I buy this milk/meat/eggs? Pretty basic, but fundamental questions that resulted in informal, honest, eye-to-eye dialogue.
It was an opportunity to gain insight into what people think about farming — people who ultimately drive demand for what’s grown and how things are grown on farms. Hearing different perspectives, whether they’re accurate or not, helps us understand why other people have the priorities that they do. In this case, when it comes to how society views farming and farming practices, that can be valuable information.
The same can be said for other ag awareness initiatives, the Breakfast on the Farm events in Ontario, and Ag in the Classroom’s programs, including Ag Literacy Month, which saw farmers and ag people visit more than 800 classrooms across the country in March.
The idea behind these initiatives has always been to raise awareness, but I wonder whether we’ve fully realized the opportunity and the value of the awareness that’s also raised inside the minds of the people who we view as the educators in these situations.
We might think of these events as opportunities to “educate” non-farmers about farming, but we’re all better off for having had a real conversation.