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

 

 

 

Harvest Meals – Tips and Tricks

Originally published on Canola Eat Well  blog on August 31, 2015 

Harvest is now underway, albeit in fits and spurts in many areas of the country as wet weather continues to hamper efforts.  Here are a few tips to help ease the stress when it comes to meals to the field. 


Preparing and taking meals to the field during harvest can be a challenge. Some people make it look effortless, but they will be the first to tell you lessons learned along the way helped them hone their skills. They also advise it isn’t always the idyllic picture of everyone sitting around the makeshift table on the tailgate of a truck, a beautiful array of food spread out, light breeze blowing, everyone happy, relaxed — and that’s okay. Here are a few pointers from the voices of experience.

Perry combining wheat 2

Harvesting  wheat – view from the combine cab    (P. Knight photo)

Food:
  • Become friends with your slow-cooker. Embrace stews, chili and casseroles. All-in-one-meals can incorporate each food group and are easy to transport.
  • Have a good supply of clean vegetables and fruit in the fridge for quick preparation.
  •  Take advantage of rainy days to bake or make freezer-friendly meals.
Leaving Home: 
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Photo Courtesy of Roberta Galbraith

  • Make a checklist, especially if you are travelling to a field several miles away. Food, drink, utensils, chairs etc.
  • Have a storage caddy filled with cutlery, napkins, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, cups and plates. Camping dishes are ideal to use if you have them.
  •  Old towels make great insulators for keeping food warm. They absorb any spills and are easy to wash.
Getting There:
P1160916

Harvesting Canola

  • Ensure communication is clear. Exactly which field are they working in? Especially critical if it is early in your marriage when you aren’t familiar with each field’s ‘name‘.  “We’re on Bill’s”, or “At the McLeod farm”, may be meaningless to you, especially if Bill or the McLeods haven’t owned that land for several decades…                                                                                                                                   Cell phones and road numbers have definitely aided in alleviating navigational struggles.
  •  When swarms of mosquitoes and flies are abundant, it may seem genius to borrow your in-laws motor home to deliver supper. However, ensure you park on stable ground as getting said ‘kitchen-on-wheels’ stuck is more a hindrance than help to harvest progress.
No Time to Stop:
  • Small coolers which hold both food and drink, makes for a quick and easy hand-off and eliminates spills. 
  •  Sandwiches and wraps are perfect for on-the-go eating. Just remember to advise if you have used toothpicks to help hold them together…
  • Quiche works too, either hot or cold, with a side of raw veggies and a bun or biscuit. “Real men don’t eat quiche,” they say? Why argue when a simple name change will do? Who can resist “Bacon & Egg Pie”? 😉

A little preparation, communication, flexibility and sense of humour all help at this busy time of year. May your harvest meals be made and delivered with ease, and any memorable moments shared and treasured for years to come.  Wishing you a safe and abundant harvest, from our farm to yours.