Setting a course for agriculture in Ontario's classrooms

Glenna Banda has been on the job for just one month, but she has a clear vision of agricultural education in Ontario’s classrooms.

Banda is the new executive director of AgScape, Ontario’s ag in the classroom organization, which has worked with Ontario educators since 1991 to build awareness and understanding of the importance of our agriculture and food system — the organization was re-branded in 2016. For the past nine years, Banda has worked as executive director of The Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington where she tripled fundraising revenue by developing diverse fundraising plans and creating a culture of philanthropy that inspired staff, volunteers and the community.

In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Banda says her early assessment of AgScape has revealed an organization that offers excellent programs, has a hard-working, dedicated administrative staff, and teachers who are doing great work in the classroom. “We can’t keep up with demand — teachers are rebooking us to come back to their schools,” says Banda.

The biggest challenge, according to Banda, is financial. AgScape simply needs more partners and financial support. The organization has run deficits for a few years and in 2018 relied on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) for two-thirds of its funding. “We really need to grow the financial support from the sector,” says Banda. “We have the demand for our programs, they’ve shown they are working, but there is a financial need to insure we can be sustainable for the future.” (Story continues after the interview.)

Banda intends to draw on her fundraising experience and ability to build partnerships to engage agriculture and food stakeholders. She says that it’s incumbent on AgScape to show the industry the benefits it brings to the sector as whole to earn greater financial support.

Banda also believes that the career potential ag and food provides and the demand for skilled people to work in sector, illustrates more than ever the need for an organization like AgScape. She feels it’s important that talented young people recognize and understand the sector. There’s certainly plenty of opportunity — students attending the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College, for example, typically have two to three job offers when they graduate. “If we can help deliver employees for our corporate supporters, it’s a huge opportunity for us,” she adds.

With a teenage daughter attending school, Banda knows first-hand the important role AgScape can play in busting food myths and helping students with little knowledge of where their food comes from to better understand agriculture and the role it can play in their future.

Politics has a significant impact on education, especially when it comes to curriculum. Ontario’s Education Minister, Lisa Thompson, has a strong understanding of agriculture — she’s a graduate of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program and also a former AgScape board member. In the interview, Banda says she was grateful to have Thompson attend AgScape’s annual meeting last month and she’ll be looking for opportunities to work with the provincial government to find ways for AgScape to enhance agriculture education in the classroom.

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