Prairie Magic in a Bottle

Originally published in Canola Digest – November 1, 2018 


Six Manitoba canola growers are bottling and marketing cold-pressed canola oils with flavour characteristics unique to their own farms. Described as ‘Prairie magic in a bottle’, the oils are a locally-grown alternative to imported extra-virgin olive oils.

Bruce Dalgarno, who farms at Newdale, admits the past year and a half since the growers joined forces to form CanFarm Foods Ltd. has been anything but easy, but he and the other farmers are extremely proud of the work they have done.

“When you tell people the canola from your farm is in that bottle, you can see their surprise,” says Keenan Wiebe, another partner. “They don’t get to meet the farmer behind the product that often.”

Cold-pressed canola oil comes from mechanically pressing and grinding the seed at a slow speed with temperatures not exceeding 60°C. While the process means less oil is extracted, the end product is extremely unique.

The terroir — a combination of geography, geology and climate — gives each region’s oil distinct differences in colour, flavour and even nutritional profile. Described as earthy, grassy and nutty, these distinct vintages are perfect for adding flavour to bread dips, salad dressings and marinades or drizzling over a variety of foods as a finishing oil.

As a premium, specialty product, a 250ml bottle retails at $10 — about 20 times the price of conventional canola oil. CanFarm Foods produces three cold-pressed oils — Northern Lights, Heartland and Big Prairie Sky — from the Interlake, Pembina Valley and Parkland regions of Manitoba.

As developing new markets is one of MCGA’s goals, the organization launched a research project in 2014. The Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network (MAHRN) studied virgin, cold-pressed canola oil, meal and co-products from processing. Growing Forward II provided $396,000 funding and MCGA contributed $10,000. The concept of this value-added oil began with Ellen Pruden, education and promotions manager with the Manitoba Canola Growers Association (MCGA). She noticed slight taste differences in conventional canola oil, was aware of terroir in other foods and beverages and knew there was a growing consumer interest in cold-pressed oils.

The research confirmed terroir did exist in canola. The Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie provided guidance in getting the product ready for retail and food service testing. Consumers, chefs and culinary professionals approved. The stage was set to fill a niche market.

MCGA put out a call for members interested in the commercialization of these new oils. Seventeen farmers initially expressed interest, but in the end it was Brian Chorney and son-in-law Kyle Norquay from Selkirk, Bruce Dalgarno from Newdale, David Reykdal and daughter Rebecca from Winnipeg Beach and Keenan Wiebe from Starbuck who incorporated CanFarm Foods in July 2017. Each stakeholder contributed $10,000 to get the company off the ground.

Dalgarno acknowledges getting the oil from farm gate to market has been slow and frustrating. The paperwork and legalities were easy. The challenges included sourcing reasonably priced packaging to improve margins, obtaining accurate nutritional analysis, development of new labels, marketing, shipping costs, working with facilities to crush and bottle the oil, and maintaining consistency in the amount of oil per bushel crushed.

Yet despite obstacles and set-backs, the partners are anxious to move ahead. Economic benefits will depend on how the company fares. But those involved speak more passionately about the opportunity to connect directly with consumers and share their farm story.

“I believe our long-term sustainability goals and the way we work our land means a lot to people who are concerned about where their food comes from,” Chorney says.

“I think as a farmer we need to be more involved,” Dalgarno adds. “The consumer is looking for info on how their food is produced. It is all about education, and it goes both ways. We can also try to understand what the consumer wants and is looking for.”

Sales to date have been mostly consumer-driven through retail outlets in Winnipeg and rural Manitoba. A few chefs are using the product, including Kyle Lew of Chew restaurant in Winnipeg.

“We’ve used it for a ton of different dishes in the past few years,” Lew says. “In a similar fashion to wine, the different types really reflect the terroir that they are grown in. I don’t really have a favourite (flavour). The oil itself is my favourite.”

Erin MacGregor, self-proclaimed food fanatic, registered dietitian and home economist from Toronto, is also a fan. “I’ve used them exclusively for drizzling over salads and cooked veggies for fresh grassy flavour.”

Online sales have seen the product shipped to Toronto, Vancouver and even New York.

Media coverage in the Toronto Star, Chatelaine, Canadian Living and Manitoba Co-operator has been beneficial. Last fall, Dalgarno took Big Prairie Sky oil to the Great Manitoba Food Fight, a competition featuring Manitoba entrepreneurs who have developed, but not fully commercialized, new and innovative food or alcoholic beverage products. While it didn’t win, he says the experience was phenomenal with valuable connections made in the food industry.

The local, authentic food movement is strong and growing – and with it, the potential for increased sales. As an example, CanFarm’s oils were purchased by a company this spring for a customer-giveaway. Made-in-Manitoba gift baskets and food box subscription services offer alternatives to direct retail sales.

Small-scale food processing may be challenging, but determination and resourcefulness is nothing new to farmers. CanFarm’s unique local oils give its partners a good opportunity to connect with their customers. “Usually, the seed would get hauled away as a bulk commodity and we would never get to be part of the equation,” said Reykdal. “I’m interested in making that connection — directly from the farm to the plate.”

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Agvocating through Experience

 

Originally published in the Manitoba Co-operator October 18, 2018


Tracy Wood & Taralea Simpson

Tracy Wood and Taralea Simpson knew they found the perfect spot when they discovered a 95-acre wooded river lot just outside of Portage la Prairie was for sale.

Having long dreamt of owning their own farm-stay, bed and breakfast business, the sisters officially opened “Farm Away Retreat” last month.

With their roots deeply embedded in agriculture, advocating for the industry was an integral part of their business model.

“Agriculture is who we are, it’s what shaped us, it’s what we do now for jobs, it’s where we spend our volunteer hours at — from 4-H to fair board to educating kids at the school level to 4R nutrient management promotion,” said Wood. “We want to bring our knowledge, first-hand experience and love of agriculture to those who are eager to learn more. Plus, there is really no place exactly like this anywhere nearby.”

The sisters grew up on a farm south of Portage la Prairie. Both furthered their education at the University of Manitoba — Wood with a Diploma in Agriculture and Simpson with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Degree.

Wood and her husband, along with their two sons, operate a 250-head cow-calf operation. She obtained Equine Assisted Learning Certification in 2014 and began her business, “Touch of Equine”. Currently, she is also General Manager for the Portage Industrial Exhibition Association.

Simpson has worked as agrologist for the last 25 years, and runs a 50-head cow-calf operation with her daughter and husband.

With their busy schedules, assistance from family and friends was crucial.

“Honestly, it’s a bit hectic at times. Our new business is like an extension of our existing family farms. Through the help of family and some great friends we are able to make it work. It takes organization, teamwork and communication,” Simpson acknowledged. “I think all those things are skills we have learned from 4-H, our farms, our jobs etc. Our ultimate goal is to transition to Farm Away full time as soon as it can support itself independently.”

Wood extensively researched both bed & breakfast and care farm (the use of farming practices for providing or promoting mental or physical healing, social or education services) before the sisters decided on how they would run their farm-stay business. Bridging the ever-growing urban-rural divide was one of their main goals.

“We want people to come and immerse themselves in agriculture and nature, to experience it first hand. Ask questions and hopefully leave feeling they understand more about where their food comes from,” explained Wood.

They see a wide variety of opportunities to do this, with their motto, “Gather – Learn – Stay” guiding the way.

Pasture tours are complimentary to anyone who stays and offer the opportunity to discuss hay processing, pasture and land management. Calving dates for the various family herds are September/October, February/March and April/May. Winter provides the experience of feeding and bedding for the cattle.

Horses, sheep and chickens are on-site with ‘guest appearances’ from occasional cows, calves and pigs. Lambing takes place throughout the year and Equine Assisted Learning runs from spring to late fall.

While the farm experience is an integral part of Farm Away, it also offers the opportunity to simply relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of country life. It’s a perfect spot for photo shoots. The house is surrounded by meticulously, manicured gardens. An outdoor pool provides a place to cool off on a hot summer day. Trails and walking paths are abundant. You can wander through an old farmhouse filled with antique decor.

Wood and Simpson are quick to acknowledge the previous owners for the love and care they put into the property which perfectly suited their vision. Serendipity played a part as it only took two weeks to find once they decided to pursue their dream together.

Financing a new business is always a challenge, but the sisters admit the first and toughest hurdle they faced was believing they could do it. “It’s daunting to step out of the familiar and into something new, admitted Simpson. “Putting the plan into place and how to make it happen was challenging.”

The biggest rewards to date has been the enthusiasm of others – those who have visited the property or checked out the website are cheering them on, supporting and encouraging them in their venture.

Knowledge is nothing unless you share it with others. These two passionate agvocates are taking that message to heart. They hope the first-hand experiences they are offering at Farm Away will leave a lasting impact and better understanding of agriculture with each and every guest.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Their advice to anyone wanting to follow their agvocating through experience model: Do your research, talk to people to get ideas. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Do something you are passionate about.


 

For more information visit www.farmawayretreat.com

E-mail:  hello@farmawayretreat.com

Phone: 1-204-870-1564 or 1-204-857-1910

Dear Graduate

“Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead.” — Nora Ephron


Dear Graduate,

Congratulations! You’ve earned your diploma or degree and you’re on your way! Everyone is asking, “What will you be doing now? Where are going? Do you have a job?” The questions are well-meaning but relentless. The pressure feels immense.

You smile, nod and try to answer. Perhaps you’re stepping forward with confidence and conviction, goals outlined and a plan of action in place. But what if you’re not? What if you’re wavering, uncertain, concerned you’ll never know what you ‘should’ be doing?

First of all, that’s okay.

Most of us have felt that way, even those who don’t dare admit it. And guess what? Many of us don’t end up where we’d thought we be. That’s okay too — and actually often better than we imagined.

Trust that everything will work out.

If I could go back and chat with myself as I set out after high school and university, I would share that reassurance and these words of advice:

  1.   You aren’t required to have all the answers now. A specific life goal isn’t   necessary — you simply need a path to follow. Sometimes that starts with   knowing what you don’t want.
  2.   As you head down your path, know it’s okay to veer off and change direction.   Be determined but flexible.
  3.   Every stage of education is a stepping stone, a building block, leading you   where you’re meant to be. It is all worthwhile.
  4.   Ignore the pressure and expectations you feel from peers, teachers, parents   and society. Do what you love. Know that may change over time.
  5.   Believe in your abilities — to learn, to grow, to find your way. Don’t  compare your journey to that of others’.  This is yours. Own it.
  6.   Value and nurture the friendships you make along the way. Surround yourself  with positive people — those who lift you up and encourage you — especially when you fall. Keep your circle strong.
  7.   Always do your best, give 100% — not only in the things you love, but in those tasks or jobs which are bridges to your goals.
  8.   Be respectful and kind — even when those courtesies are not extended to you.
  9.   Trust when someone sees potential in you that you don’t even know exists. Take the chance when pushed outside your comfort zone. You’ll find out you’re far more capable than you knew.
  10.   Be open to new opportunities. Ask, “If I don’t do this now, will I regret it?” Let your inner voice guide you — it will not let you down.
  11.   Don’t be afraid to ask — questions, for help, for clarification — even for a raise or a promotion.
  12.   Never stop learning — personally or professionally.
  13.   No matter where you are, get involved with your community. Give  back in   whatever way you can. It is as good for you as for those you’re helping.
  14.  Take a break and recharge your batteries when needed. Enjoy the journey. Take the detours. The greatest rewards are often from the unplanned events in our lives.
  15. ‘Success’ does not depend on the opinion of others. Let your values and convictions guide you to your own definition of success.

So dear graduate aside set any fears and anxieties. Enjoy the celebrations. Graciously accept all the congratulations. Answer questions the best way you can, knowing you don’t have to give the ‘final answer’.

Take a deep breath, start down your path and simply put one foot in front of the other. Go after those new opportunities.

And remember, even when it feels like it isn’t working out, eventually it will. In time, you will get to where you are meant to be.

Precision Plant Breeding – Clarifying ‘What’s in a name?’

Originally published April 26, 2018 in the The Manitoba Cooperator 


Canola Blossoms

Science has always led the way in agriculture, and continues to do so today. Yet advances in plant breeding are being met with skepticism, fear and vehement opposition by many consumers.

Perhaps we aren’t listening closely enough to their concerns. Because we understand the science, we assumed they would too. We’ve failed in telling our story, or at least to the right people. Farmers are great at connecting with other farmers but we need to go beyond our online echo chambers and ensure we’re reaching the end-users.

While we’ve lagged behind, fear-based marketing campaigns have swayed consumers while activists continue to stand in the way of efficient, leading-edge plant breeding methods.

We’re frustrated, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

At medical appointments when doctors use confusing terminology, we stop and ask them to explain in terms we can understand. The same can be said for any expert – they know the technical terms and acronyms specific to their fields, but if they’re trying to convey a message, layman’s terms are needed.

Yet in agriculture we continue to use terms such as GMO, GE, GM, transgenic, CRISPR, TALEN, genome/gene editing and biotech crops. No wonder there is apprehension and confusion. Even when people do not know what a GMO is, they believe it something that should be feared and avoided. See “What’s a GMO?” for Jimmy Kimmel’s take on the subject. He sent a camera crew to a farmers’ market near his studio to ask people what they thought GMO meant.

GMO is now a widely recognized, often misused and misunderstood term. It’s used extensively by media and marketers alike. We can’t abandon it, but we can shift to clearer, all-encompassing terminology which covers all the latest advances.

No matter the type of plant breeding used over the last 10,000 years, the goal has always been the same – genetic improvement. Make the plants better – disease and insect resistant, improved qualities and yields. With newer technologies now available, the process has become extremely precise and efficient. “Precision plant breeding” covers it all in clear, concise and understandable language.

The term is a welcoming, open door to further the conversation as to the benefits on our farms, to the environment, the consumer and those in developing countries.

Precision plant breeding is one of the tools available to help feed our ever-growing world and adapt to changes in the environment. It offers solutions to famine, malnutrition, drought, flooding and disease.

We can’t expect unequivocal acceptance without explanation. We need to effectively communicate to the masses the what, when, why, where and how.

Clearer language is a positive step forward in taking down fences of fear and building bridges of understanding.

Not everyone will be on the same page. But hopefully there will be enough consensus to lead the world to the ultimate goal – abundant, safe, affordable food for all.

So much more than ‘just potatoes’…

                        Originally published in The Manitoba Co-operator November 16, 2017                              “Building their community one potato at a time”


How does it feel to give away 35,000 lbs of potatoes in just under 5 hours?

“It was awesome…a lot of fun,” recalls farmer Mark Peters with a wide smile. Peters and his wife Yanara, of Spruce Drive Farms, grow certified seed potatoes 12 miles northwest of Portage la Prairie.

On Saturday, October 14, 2017 they brought in two potato trucks and a conveyor to a vacant lot in Portage and set up for their second Community Potato Give-Away.

Gathering spuds along the 36-foot conveyor

Word about the event spread throughout the week and people were already lined up by 8:30 — a half hour before the give-away was slated to start. While many had driven, others walked, pushed strollers, rode bikes or scooters. As the potatoes were unloaded from the truck onto the 36-foot conveyor, folks gathered around filling bags, boxes, containers of all sizes and even backpacks.

Volunteers worked alongside the Peters, helping load and carry the spuds as well as encouraging those who were unsure of what to do to find a place along the conveyor and help themselves. The atmosphere was light and jovial. It didn’t matter who you were, or where you came from, everyone was welcome to as many potatoes as they wanted.

“What I loved about it, is that we’re not just targeting one sector of our community. We had people of all ages, all income brackets and walks of life stop by,” said Mark. Many people on fixed incomes and social assistance came up to him to express just how much this was helping them out, shake his hand and thank him. Others stopped by out of curiosity or because they knew the Peters. Some didn’t even need the potatoes but just thought it was a cool idea.

For Yanara, the feeling of community was incredibly gratifying.

“Discovering how people are there for each other, like those taking potatoes for perogy fundraisers to support other needs in our area. Or the grandmothers who cook extra meals for the children in their community,” she said. “We’re all the same and we all have a story.”

“You had people that come back two or three times,” Mark added. “But they’re not coming back for themselves. They’re coming back for their neighbours, their friends, their families.” And that is exactly what the event is all about. The inspiration to reach out and help others. Filling a need. Building and extending community.

Inadvertently it also bridges the farmer-consumer gap. The young ones in the crowd often opened up the best conversations. “Why are the potatoes dirty?” ”How come there are so many different shapes and sizes?” “Why are you giving them away?” Many discussions ensued on food waste, what happens to produce before you find it on your store shelves, and why it feels good to give back when you can.

The inaugural event in 2016 was a result of circumstance. Seed potato production standards are very precise. That year, some of the Peters’ crop did not meet seed specifications but was perfectly suitable for the consumer market. However, without a contract to sell consumer potatoes, there was place for those spuds to go. They could have left them in the field and avoided incurring any more costs, but that type of waste didn’t sit well with the Peters. They opted to dig the crop and the “Community Potato Give-Away” was born.

Being cognizant of local vegetable fundraisers in the community, they waited until those were over before proceeding. The event was a success, in more ways than the Peters could have imagined. The heartfelt gratitude and connections made were powerful and lasting.

“It was always on my heart,” said Mark. “I really I wanted to do that again.”

However, this past summer rains eluded his area. Only the smaller of his two potato fields had access to irrigation. The potatoes in the larger field suffered under the intense summer heat, not looking healthy at all. Peters worried, unsure if he would even have enough to fill his seed contracts.

Once harvest was underway, those worries slowly receded. Whether it was divine intervention or answered prayers, that field with little to no rain, produced amazingly well. On the last day of harvest, Peters had a good idea of what was left in the field and didn’t think it could all fit in his storage bin. The give-away would happen.

He set up a sizer to separate the larger potatoes (less desirable for seed) as they were unloaded. One and half truck loads were set aside for donation. Along with the Portage la Prairie event, six 2,000-pound totes were filled to be delivered to remote reserves across the province. The fact that the Peters don’t even mention the effort, cost and time that goes into this, speaks volumes.

Many asked if this will be an annual event. When it comes to farming, it all depends on the year and success of the crop. The Peters remember and appreciate how generous people were with them when they were young adults, so when they are in a position to give back, they definitely will.

“It’s only potatoes, but it just brought so much to the community,” Mark said. “It’s a great opportunity to interact with people and hear their stories. The most basic need is being met with most basic vegetable.”

Agvocating through art

Originally published in the July 13, 2017  issue of the Manitoba Cooperator


As farmers we don’t often have the opportunity to celebrate and showcase the crops we grow. So, when the opportunity arises, why not take it?

Earlier this year, our local arts centre asked for exhibit ideas for their boardroom gallery. Considering 2017 is canola’s 50th anniversary, I suggested a display of pictures, products and facts to celebrate. It was built around a blog post from last July entitled, Simply Canola, and inspired by the Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum in Ottawa. The museum is commemorating Canada’s 150th birthday and Canola’s 50th anniversary with a nation-wide travelling exhibition, “Canola: A Canadian Story of Innovation” as well as an on-site exhibit, “Canola! Seeds of Innovation.”

Leanne Campbell photo

By far, canola is one of the most recognized crops we grow. There is no doubt it is the shining star of agriculture across western Canada every summer when it blooms. It isn’t unusual to see people stopping alongside the road to snap a picture, or take a ‘selfie’ against its gorgeous sea of yellow. Even those of us who grow it, are taken in by the allure of those bright and beautiful blossoms. Case in point – my extensive collection of photos from 2016.

With less than two percent of Canadians living on farms, there is a huge disconnect between food producers and consumers. Surveys show consumers want to learn more. We’ve been advised to tell our story, our way. So why not tell it through art? Especially when you can celebrate a crop many people are familiar with on a visual level.

Simply Canola is a pictorial diary of the canola we grew on our farm last year. Twenty-six photos, displayed in date order, give a tour from emergence to harvest, from close-ups to landscapes to sunsets. I’m hoping they convey the pride we take in growing this iconic prairie crop. A display case with canola, a sample of products made from it and bright yellow note cards with canola facts add an element of education to the display.

Jennifer Dyck photo

Canola is so much more than a pretty backdrop on the prairie landscape under the summer sun. The impact it has had in Canada and around the world in just 50 years is astounding. As the world’s only “Made in Canada” crop, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to agvocate and celebrate it with my photography in our local community. To date feedback has been positive and encouraging, both from consumers and those in the ag industry.

If you are in Portage la Prairie, please stop by and enjoy our farm’s views and vistas of Simply Canola. The exhibit is on display at the Portage and Districts Centre (11 2 St NE, Portage la Prairie, MB) from June 20th – August 5th in the Boardroom.

Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11:00am to 5:00pm     Click here for directions.      (Note: Boardroom Gallery closed Wednesdays 12:30pm-3:30pm)  


Comments on “Simply Canola” 

“Who knew? Well done!”

“Beautiful, picturesque and educational.”

“Thank you – for this great contribution to the industry.”

“Excellent way to capture beauty and education.”

“I learned so much about canola!”

“Beautiful memories of home.”

“Lovely…and educational.”

“Canola: A Canadian Story of Innovation” begins National Tour

Originally published in the March 2017  issue of Canola Digest


Sandi Knight photo

What happens Canada’s 150th birthday and Canola’s 50th anniversary collide? The Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum (CAFM) in Ottawa celebrates with a nation-wide tour of a new travelling exhibition, “Canola: A Canadian Story of Innovation”. This exhibit made its debut at Canola Council of Canada’s “Good As Gold” 50th Annual Convention in Winnipeg on March 7—9. It will be on display at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport in the arrivals hall through March 23rd.

Designed to tell the story of canola to Canadians, this 500-square-foot exhibit is interactive, hands-on and designed for all ages. It is comprised of two C-shaped configurations — one to make you feel immersed in a field of canola, the other as though you are walking into a processing plant. It will highlight canola’s versatility from cooking oil to canola meal, biofuels, ink, plastics and cosmetics. Visitors will learn the history — from a crop that didn’t exist 50 years ago to the multi-billion industry that exists in Canada today. They will discover the on-going science, research and innovation behind canola.

Credit: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Credit: Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

 

 

 

 

 

Over the next five years, it will travel to museums, science centres, indoor and outdoor exhibitions, hospitals, shopping malls and airports. A map and links can be found on-line at CAFM.

The main gallery of the CAFM will also house a long-term, more in-depth, 2,500-square-foot exhibit.  It will connect to the museum’s demonstration kitchen, providing access for hands-on learning food experiences. The museum, which hosts 200,000 visitors/year, is a working farm, so as guests tour they will see canola growing and learn how canola meal is used in food rations for livestock and poultry.

The CAFM wants to ensure the canola story is accessible to all Canadians, so those unable to visit either exhibit will be able to access information and resources on the website.

Kerry-Leigh Burchill, director general of the CAFM states it was a fortuitous meeting with Simone Demers Collins, market development & promotions coordinator of Alberta Canola, at a Grow Canada Conference in Ottawa that led to this new exhibit to celebrate Canada’s 150th. Burchill said the museum was looking for a crop or a process that had “a very strong connection to innovation by Canadians in the fields of science and technology when it came to agriculture.”  To which Collins replied, “I think that story can be canola.”

Canadian canola grower associations and industry partners then stepped up to the plate to collaborate and sponsor the exhibit.

To ensure accuracy and a balanced representation for the exhibits, a National Advisory Council provided advice and input. The 13 member panel from a wide cross-section disciplines, included Dr. Keith Downey, one of the fathers of canola. Focus groups and surveys ensured terminology used was understandable to the general public.

The goal is to showcase agriculture as an ever-evolving industry, highlight the heritage of this made-in-Canada crop along with the benefits of growing canola from health, food security, environmental, economic and sustainability perspectives. Burchill hopes the exhibit will even inspire young students to chose a career path in agriculture.

Communication and education are key to the advancement of agriculture in Canada. This initiative will be a valuable reminder of just how far the canola industry has come in 50 years.

Courtesy Canola Council of Canada

Thoughts on "Canola: A Canadian Story of Innovation" 

Sandi Knight photo

“I think it’s an opportunity to be able to allow the urban population in particular, and farmers as well, to see where canola came from – the humble beginnings, where it’s going and the variety of products available from canola.” — Bruce Dalgarno, Farmer, Newdale, MB

 

Sandi Knight photo

“When visitors have the opportunity to learn from our farmers, hear their stories about growing ingredients for our recipes and food for our tables, a deeper farm to food connection is made. The display will give Canadians an opportunity to #ExploreCanola.” — Ellen Pruden, Education and Promotions Manager Manitoba Canola Growers/Canola Eat Well

Sandi Knight photo

“As the Canola Council of Canada celebrates 50 years in 2017 we couldn’t be more proud to tell the story of five decades of achievement and transformation in the Canadian canola industry and the exciting opportunities ahead. The exhibition is an excellent example of the innovative and collaborative spirit that’s driven canola’s success and we’re honoured to be able to launch the #ExploreCanola tour at our upcoming Convention.” — Patti Miller, President, Canola Council of Canada

Sandi Knight photo

“It is undeniable that the science, research and innovation behind canola changed how a lot of agriculture is done around the world”. — Kerry-Leigh Burchill Director General, Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

 

Do farmers add value to trade missions?

Originally published in the March 2017 issue of Canola Digest 


Sandi Knight photo

Canola is Canada’s top agricultural export to China, accounting for 40% of canola seed exports. Maintaining this market is essential for the canola industry and the 43,000 Canadian farmers who grow it.

Jack Froese, a farmer from Winkler, director and treasurer of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association and now Chair of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, visited China last November. He was part the Team Canada Trade Mission led by the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Left to Right:  Jack Froese; Barry Senft – Grain Farmers of Ontario; Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Jim Smolik – Canadian Grain Commission; Jim Everson – Soy Canada.

Froese attended meetings and seminars as well as a food show, which hosted over 72,000 trade buyers and 2,350 food companies from 66 countries and regions. The enormity of this show highlights the importance of the growing Chinese market and the competitiveness of countries rivaling for export business.

Producers attending trade missions are seen as a trusted, credible source of reliable, accurate information. When exporters have questions about agronomy and specific farm practices, such as crop rotation or pesticide use, farmers can address those queries. This helps build relationships and confidence in crop quality.

Froese states it is also an opportunity to find out what competitors are doing. You see the intricacies of the whole system in getting our crop from the bin to the plate. You find out how easily a market can disappear with changes in governments, their food policies, legislation, currency, transportation or stance on biotechnology. When we export 90% of our canola, awareness of the challenges in the global marketplace at the producer level is crucial in adapting and being prepared to comply with changes as they happen.

Whether it be trade missions, meetings at home or abroad, Froese has found his involvement in with the MCGA, CCCA and other farm organizations to be very rewarding: seeing firsthand the ripple effects of what happens beyond the farm gate, gaining a better understanding of trade, policy and transportation, being part of a team responsible for getting Canadian products to customers around the globe. It has broadened his awareness of safety net programs, sustainability, marketing, food integrity, storage, environmental and social sciences issues that impact his farm and those of farmers in Manitoba.

However, without his son running the day-to-day operations of their family farm, along with a nephew and three other employees, Froese knows he wouldn’t have the time or flexibility to contribute. He encourages producers to take on active roles – at whatever level their operation allows. He admits while does take time away from the farm, “If I didn’t have a passion for it, I wouldn’t be there.”

Agvocating – Where do I begin?

Originally published in the November 2016 issue of Canola Digest 


With less than two percent of Canadians living on farms, there is a huge disconnect between food producers and consumers. Surveys show consumers want to learn more. In order to give them credible information, farmers and others in the ag industry need to speak up. Advice and workshops on advocating for agriculture, or ‘agvocating’, has been presented at many farm shows/conferences over the last year.

kevin-folta

CAST photo

Dr. Kevin Folta  is a professor, Chair of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida and winner of the 2016 Borlaug CAST Communication Award. “Recipients of CAST’s annual award are science/ag experts who demonstrate an ability to communicate through written material, public presentations, and various forms of media.” Folta does it all, and  does it exceptionally well. He speaks across North America and has a strong on-line presence. He offers this advice when discussing agricultural biotechnology with a concerned public.

 

DO:

  • Start with shared values and common concerns. “Like you, I want my kids to eat healthy food.”  “My family lives on the farm. I care about the farm environment. Here’s what I do…”
  •  Have honest conversations about what you know; speak to your strengths.  If you don’t believe it, don’t say it.
  • Disengage when attacks become personal, it is unproductive to continue.
  • Talk about ethics, your experience and your priorities. Remember you cannot fight fear with facts.
  • Sign up for social media accounts – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Follow other agvocates. Even if you don’t create content, you can have a tremendous impact by amplifying others’ messages. ie. share good work, making it more visible.  Signing up also ensures that you have control of your own name.

Don’t:

  •  Use the “feed the world” rhetoric.
  •  Dodge discussions on the limitations of genetic engineering/modification (GM). See Folta’s slide deck for more.
  • Ever claim GM is a single solution. It is not.
  • Discount other production methods or tools. All tools are needed going forward.
  • Discredit other forms of genetic improvement  such as mutagenesis.

Take-A-Way:

We have the safest, most diverse and abundant food supply in history. We also have immediate access to information — good and bad. If we engage incorrectly, we make the  broken lines of communication between consumers, scientists and farmers  worse.

To change the hearts and minds of a concerned public, we need to get involved in the conversation — in person, on-line or both. According to studies farmers are both warm and competent, so sharing our stories is critical to ensure and maintain access to ag innovation for everyone.

p1160076So begin with telling your story, your way. Don’t get bogged down in the science and terminology. Explain how precision plant breeding benefits your farm, the environment and food production.

Read, watch videos, listen to podcasts, learn from others, share their stories and practice telling yours. Remember if you don’t have the answer to someone’s question, it is okay to say, “I’ll look into that and get back to you.” Add your voice to the conversation — everyone’s is needed. If we don’t tell our stories, who will?


Kevin Folta resources:

Other Ag resources:

Weathering the Rain

Originally published in the Manitoba Cooperator October 6, 2016 

Reflections on the seemingly endless rains this past growing season. For many across western Canada, snow was added to the mix in early October and harvest continues to be an ongoing challenge for far too farmers.  Thinking of those who are struggling to get their crops from the field to bin and hoping everyone will soon be done with #Harvest16.  


facebook_1474855006708I used to be that girl, the one who would joyfully head outside when it rained. I loved everything about it. The rhythmic sound on rooftops. The patterns it made as it rolled down windows. The feel of rain on my cheeks. The way it would it soak through and soften my wild, curly hair. If the rain was coming down fast and furious, I was content to sit under the cover of the front porch and watch. But the best rains were gentle, light, perfect for walking. The air so fresh, the streets quiet and still. Those rains offered a refuge from troubles and worries. I can still see my younger self soaking in the peace and serenity of those walks.

Yet there I sat, staring at the computer screen, tears instead of raindrops, slowly rolling down my cheeks. A friend was embracing and enjoying that night’s rain. Her post on social media read, “Jammies, slippers, hoodie, book, veranda, rain! Wonderful combination. .oh yes..glass of wine.”  She was doing exactly what I believe in and strive for — embracing the moment. But instead of being happy for her, I was jealous. Not of what she had, or what she was doing, but of that feeling, that freedom, that joyful connection to the rain.

I had the comfy clothes, books and wine, maybe not the veranda to relax in; that wasn’t the issue. What really got to me was the fact that she was enjoying the rain — and I wasn’t. In fact, after almost 3 months of excessive rains, I was cursing yet another downpour that was downgrading our wheat and delaying the start of harvest.

You would think after 27 years of farming, I would be used to it, but that night the dismal weather really weighed me down. I missed being that girl and my past laissez-faire relationship with the weather.

When your income is dependent on Mother Nature, your relationship with the sun and rain becomes fickle.  Excess amounts of either, especially at critical times during the growing season, can cause anything but joy and relaxation. The hold the weather has on our lives, can at times, be tiring.

I’m rather embarrassed by my feelings that night; jealousy is not an admirable trait. And being jealous of a feeling — well, that borders on absurd. I confessed to my friend. She totally understood, but we agreed the next time that happens, I am to join her.

rainbowI spoke to another woman, who has long since retired from farming and asked her if concern for the weather ever goes away. She laughed, “No.” So I guess I’ll have to be content with my memories of that girl. Look back on her fondly and smile. Even when we no longer work the land, concern for farmers will always be there, and I will be that little old lady who politely asks, “So, was that a good rain?”

 


It helps to talk to someone who listens and understands. No matter the issue, you can contact the Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services. They offer free, confidential information and non-judgmental support, for anyone who lives on farm, rural or northern community. Call Toll-Free 1-866-367-3276 Monday – Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. After hours 1-888-322-3016

A list of nationwide resources in Canada can be found here