Engaging youth in agriculture

Originally published March 3, 2016 in the Manitoba Cooperator


Becky Parker is a young woman with a vision and passion — to engage and educate youth about agriculture, the agri-food sector and it’s many career opportunities.  She is a Project and Partnership Strategist with Ontario Agri-Food and Education    and a Nuffield Scholar researching models of ag career education.

She shared a rather startling fact at Manitoba Ag Days in January.  It is estimated that by 2022 there will be 74,000 job openings in the Canadian agri-food sector but one third will go unfilled. In fact, Farm Credit Canada has identified a labour shortage in agriculture as the leading risk management factor for our industry.

Parker believes the answer to the labour shortage is sitting in our Canadian classrooms right now.  “There’s a feeling, there’s an identity to working in agriculture,” she said.  We need to excite and engage young people, yet remain realistic. Certain jobs aren’t for everyone, especially in primary production. Many students admit, it is “too much work.” So how can we sell these jobs and open their eyes to other job prospects in agriculture?

First, we need to work on perspective, she advised.  So many view agriculture as farming and/or being a farmer and are unaware of the many other opportunities that exist. Everyone in the industry can work on this issue.

We can start by providing students with hands-on experience — field trips to farms or ‘take a kid to work’ days.  Connect with school guidance counselors and consider apprenticeship programs. Share information on resources.  Ag in the Classroom offers  a variety of learning opportunities for students of all ages.  GrowingCareers.ca is a website designed for both educators and students to explore careers in the agri-food sector.

Secondly, “Be a mentor or teacher,”  Parker stated.  Volunteer with Ag in the Classroom or 4-H. Host a meeting or ag forum, share your experience. Consider what other countries are doing. In New Zealand Get Ahead Career Experience Days are held across the country where students not only meet a variety of successful professionals in the ag industry, but also complete a hands-on activity associated with a particular job. The impact is powerful and positive.

Australia has an Art4Agriculture program where students research an agriculture commodity or issue and present their findings through art on a fiberglass cow – a very innovative and memorable way to teach. It not only brings the farm into the classroom but builds relationships between schools, industry and business while raising awareness of career pathways.

But sharing your story, Parker told the audience, is one of the most important things P1130965you can do. That doesn’t necessarily mean talking about ‘what’ we do – it is far more powerful to share the ‘why’. We are far more likely to inspire if we share the reasons and the passion behind our career choice. Social media provides a great platform but volunteering or everyday conversations also offer opportunities.

Being proactive and starting early will open students’ eyes to the wide variety of jobs available. We each need to do what we can to engage the next generation and ensure a labour shortage will not be a crippling issue for agriculture in 2022. Whether it is on our own or by other means, she encourages all of us to “Step up to plate, and swing the bat.”

Dreams Can Come True with Agriculture

What is a Farm Woman?


To celebrate International Women’s Day, I am sharing a toast written for the 29th Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference  ~ November 16, 2015 


What is a farm woman? According to dictionary.com “a woman who operates a farm or cultivates the land; a woman who lives on a farm.” That’s fairly straightforward.

20151108_120146Urban dictionary paints a more creative definition of a farm girl, “independent woman. can ride horses and four-wheeler’s. can drive anything with four wheels. loves to drive trucks and tractors. they are lovers and fighters. raised up right. can wake up at anytime of the day and can stay out all night. tears up old dirt roads and speeds down gravels. they usually have big hearts and sometimes care too much. animals are a main love in their lives. special in various ways.”  Well now, that certainly paints a commanding presence!

Are these definitions reflective of today’s farm women? Depending on who you ask, “Yes”, “No”, “Maybe…”, and even a resounding, “Absolutely not!”

So what does define a farm woman in today’s world? Agriculture is ever-evolving and so are we. We are a diverse group with various backgrounds, abilities and strengths.    It is no longer expected that as farm women, we only have one role, or that over the years, it has to stay the same. We can choose a job we love, a job we are good at, a job we want and do it in a way that suits our lives – whether it is on or off the farm.

There is no single, set description that encompasses us all. Whether you define yourself as a farmer, farm partner or farm wife, every position on your farm ‘team’ is important and valued.

P1120941For me, this conference has always been a celebration of our diversity and our strengths as well as a time to learn and grow. No matter my role in our farm operation, I have always felt supported, uplifted and celebrated by being here with you.

So tonight, I am honoured to propose this toast. By choosing to do what you love, you do it well. You contribute to your family, your farm, your workplace and your community in a variety of ways. You continue to learn, grow and push boundaries.

You may or may not be able to ‘drive anything with four wheels’ but I believe you have been ‘raised up right’. You may or may not be able ‘stay out all night’, but you have a big heart and care deeply. You are most definitely ‘special in various ways’.

You deal with a multitude of challenges and can adapt to change. You take nothing for granted and find the positive in every day. You inspire those around you. You are strong, capable, determined. You are beautiful inside and out.

20160213_172335Never doubt your abilities or your capacity to learn. Believe in yourself as others believe in you. This morning Carol Ann Fried asked, “What is your dance?” No matter your style, embrace it – and be sure to use the whole dance floor! Take Jill Officer’s message to heart and always “Go your own way!” Here is to celebrating you, and continuing to support, encourage and uplift each other on this amazing, ever-evolving journey as farm women.

Anna’s Poppies

March 8th is International Women’s Day.  Since 1911 this annual event has celebrated women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements.  Women’s groups from all around the world, take part in thousands of diverse events to commermorate IWD.

It is not only a time to reflect and look to the future, but also a time to encourage and uplift each other.  For me, Anna K. Storgaard, a university professor turned life-long friend,  was a woman who exemplified encouragement and support.  

She cheered me on, no matter where I was, or what I was doing in my life. I think of her often, and am grateful for the positive influence she had on my life. 

The following tribute was written in  2010 for the Brucedale Press Acrostic Contest.  The judge commented, “A sense of quiet dignity and restrained mourning characterizes this third-place story.” 


20160306_110521

Adored by many who visited her garden, Anna’s poppies now grace my flowerbed. Because I had admired them on my last visit, she insisted I dig some up to take home.

Care had to be taken, as late June is far from ideal for transplanting perennials. Dedicated gardeners would have shuddered as I dug in the late afternoon heat, but I am thankful I did not pass on the opportunity. Every year when they bloom I am reminded of my friendship with Anna.

20160306_134055For twenty-two years after my university graduation we kept in touch, mostly through Christmas cards and letters. Giving her annual updates on jobs, family and friends always resulted in enthusiastic and encouraging responses.

Having been a professor for over thirty years, she deeply touched the lives of many with her avocation for nurturing. I feel fortunate to have known her, been accepted as I was, and forever cheered on as I made my way in life.

Jovial in nature, she seemed to appreciate my quirky sense of humour. Kindred spirits, some would say. Laughter was always welcome in her classroom making the lessons learned enjoyable and memorable.

University of Manitoba

Modest through and through,  Anna would have been uncomfortable with the many accolades expressed at her memorial service. No one was prepared to lose this remarkable spirit who embraced life with humour, curiosity, determination and dedication. One person can indeed make a difference as our dear Anna so aptly proved.

People of all ages and from all walks of life benefited from knowing her, whether as a teacher, colleague, neighbour, community member or friend. Quietly she slipped away from us but forever she will hold a special place in our hearts.

Recalling memories of Anna in her flower garden that lovely June afternoon brings me comfort. She welcomed me to sit with her amongst the vibrant blooms, sip lemonade and reminisce of days gone by. Time passed quickly as we shared stories, laughed and talked of our passion for all things green and growing.

Undaunted by her macular degeneration, she continued to garden, coping with laughter when things went awry. Venturing into her garden late one day resulted in Anna falling bottom first into a hole intended for a new plant. Without hesitation she quipped, “If my neighbours hadn’t come to my rescue, I wonder if I would have bloomed before the first killing frost!” X-rays revealed no broken bones so all was well with the bonus being an entertaining story to share.

HPIM2966Years have now passed and I still miss Anna, especially when Christmas arrives and the first card I receive is not from her. Zestfully she lived her life and as I gaze at the brilliant blossoms dancing playfully in my garden, I remember her with admiration, fondness and a smile.


 Anna Storgaard photo courtesy of University of Manitoba