A storyteller and connector, Ellen Pruden loves canola and sharing farmers' stories

It’s tough to come up with a technical description for what Ellen Pruden really does. A long-time agricultural educator and advocate, her job title says she’s the director for the Canola Eat Well program, which she leads out of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association office. But beyond that, her enthusiasm for sharing farmers’ stories has helped create a large community that includes dietitians, chefs, food “influencers,” and farmers — people from across Canada with an interest in how food is produced and prepared.

The Dietitians of Canada has recognized Pruden’s passion and effort in building these relationships by giving her its 2020 Honourary Patron Award, which is bestowed on an individual who is not a dietitian, but has advanced the dietetics profession through their work.

“Ellen has used her personal ties to Canadian agriculture to create unique and innovative opportunities for dietitians to learn about the complex world of farming and food production and has given us confidence to share that information as credible experts,” says the national organization of registered dietitians. “Ellen’s involvement in building the profile of dietitians as key stakeholders within the food community cannot be overstated, as she regularly creates opportunities for dietitians working in media, private practice, science and education.”

“To have that recognition from a prestigious organization like the Dietitians of Canada is just ‘wow.’ It’s a wow moment,” says Pruden, speaking with RealAgriculture’s Shaun Haney in the conversation below.

The Canola Eat Well program was established around eight years ago as joint market development effort between Alberta Canola, the Manitoba Canola Growers and SaskCanola to build connections and grow conversations around food and the benefits of cooking with canola oil.

“We’re just getting started, I feel. The changes that are taking place. People are so interested in food and sustainability and what farmers do, and I think we have a great story to tell,” she says.

Pruden and the Canola Eat Well team have always emphasized sharing stories about farming and food, rather than “attacking people with facts,” as she describes it.

“We always want to meet the person where they’re at and listen. That’s the biggest part. Listen to understand where they’re at and what their perceptions are,” she says.

Over the last few years, she says she’s noticed a shift in the topics food professionals are asking about. Interest in biotechnology has perhaps taken a back seat, with more questions now about pesticides and sustainability — how farming affects the environment and soil health, she explains.

To help dietitians and chefs find answers to these questions, Pruden and her team organize dozens of events in a normal year, including “Canola Camp” farm tours, workshops, and culinary events featuring well-known chefs. Each event usually includes a mix of farmers, scientists involved in agriculture, dietitians, food bloggers, and chefs.

“They want to hear that farmers are doing good things, and they ARE doing good things,” she says.

While COVID-19 has limited in-person events over the last few months, the Eat Well team has organized farmer support for chefs and restaurateurs by promoting the “Canada Takeout” initiative launched in mid-April — a campaign that asks Canadians to support local restaurants, large users of canola oil, by ordering takeout food to enjoy together at home.

She joined Shaun earlier this week to discuss the award and share her passion for the Canola Eat Well program:

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