Farm experts from the Wetaskiwin region say agriculture needs more advocates, and those involved in the industry need to speak up and be heard.
The Wetaskiwin Chamber of Commerce hosted their regular luncheon Feb. 12 at the Heritage Museum on Main Street, also on Canada’s Agriculture Day. A guest panel was introduced by Chamber staff member and agriculture supporter Pam Ganske.
Ganske said there are 954 farms in the Wetaskiwin region, so obviously farming is a big part of the local community. She stated people are more interested than ever before in learning about where their food comes from, but only two per cent of the Canadian population are farmers.
On the panel were Tim Carson, representing Alberta Open Farm Days and CEO of the Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, Melissa Schur, representing the Leduc Old Red Barn and Ray Boeve, a local farmer also representing the Wetaskiwin Ag Society.
Carson began by saying the open farm day tours are catching on quickly, an event around Alberta that brings people onto operating farms to see how they function.
He noted the open farm day program is seeing about 10 to 15 per cent growth every year, and organizers are happy to see that.
He also said open farm days are the best way for producers and the agriculture industry in general to tell their stories. He said agriculture stories told in the media sometimes don’t ring true.
Schur spoke next, describing herself as a surgical nurses who is also a fourth generation farmer. She grew up on a local dairy farm, following her Dad around, doing chores and learning about the livestock.
Schur stated she’s seen lots of interest in farming; every Tuesday she was posting little tidbits of knowledge on social media and it’s become quite popular.
She and her family have also started a farm to plate operation that’s making a name for itself in Alberta, the “The Old Red Barn” located in Leduc County.
Schur said her family converted an old barn on their property into an operation that hosts guests for dinner and to learn more about agriculture, with an emphasis on local ingredients. She said they hosted four dinners in 2017 and eight dinners in 2018.
Last to speak was Boeve, who said he mainly runs a beef operation, but also does some grain farming.
Boeve, who’s also active in the Wetaskiwin Ag Society, says the organization is trying to do as much as possible to educate youth about agriculture and also recently did some events for Japanese exchange students.
He said the society is excited about their first-ever tractor pull this summer, and he said the community ahs embraced it. Boeve said they put out a call at the beginning of November to build a track and within about 15 minutes they had 30 people volunteering equipment.
Boeve stated the Wetaskiwin Ag Society is currently building a new structure which can host bigger and better events. The project is about two-thirds done and the society is looking for project sponsorship. He noted the en wag facility would be a great addition to the community.
At the end of the presentation guests took part in a question and answer session with the panel. One guest asked what barriers exist to educating the public about agriculture’s importance.
Carson said the agriculture industry sometimes doesn’t promote itself enough. Also, a lot of urban people are interested in what’s everyday work to farm folk.
Schur agreed, noting information doesn’t have to be super-profound. Many urbans have never seen a cow up close, for example.
Boeve said it’s important to show the reality of modern farming, so people know where their food comes from.