Tens of thousands of wide-eyed kids full of energy and excitement have been peppering farmers and producer groups with questions for the past couple days at the BMO Centre in Calgary. Questions about pigs, the difference between pot and pearl barley, the nutritional value of potatoes, about monoculture and where you can get farm fresh eggs.
As quickly as the questions are being posed they are being answered with information and first hand accounts of how it gets from the farm to their plate at the Calgary Stampede’s Annual Aggie Days.
Nutritionist Jade Cozier with the Egg Farmers of Alberta tells Rural Roots Canada there’s a lot of value in having farmers talk to the kids and their parents.
“We always want to start with the young consumer so that there’s no myths as they grow up, if we give them the right ‘egg-ducation’ at the beginning then we are going to have a really conscious educated consumer as they grow-up,” said Cozier.
Alberta Wheat Grower Relations and Extension Coordinator Brian Kennedy says meeting the producers really helps set the record straight about the safe food farmers produce.
“There’s a lot more knowledge, a lot more good knowledge and on the other hand there’s a lot more bad knowledge on the internet and on TV these days about food in general and everybody’s concerned food and everybody wants to eat healthy of course and there’s a lot of misinformation so we get a lot of questions about that,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy like all the exhibitors at Aggie Days face never-ending line-ups and some say by the end of the day their voice is usually a little sore from responding to many questions they receive, not that they mind as they grow the agriculture knowledge base of these kids.
On the other side of the building, Alberta Pork’s Communications Coordinator Geoff Geddes engages a large group of kids about the bio-security measures producers have in place to keep their animals and consumers food safe.
“Well it’s huge because pigs are susceptible to a lot of the same diseases as humans, so they are very vulnerable and with the recent problem of PED sweeping across the United States and then coming into Canada killing a lot of piglets, so it was really devastating for the industry in the States, but because of the great bio-security we have here, especially in Alberta, we’ve been able to keep it out of the province so far and keep it limited in Canada,” says Geddes.
Geddes says producers know the importance of having their story told.
“So people know it is not all factory farms out there, there’s still a lot of family farms, producers who just want to make a living for themselves and their family, you know take the best care of their animals and they really take pride in feeding the world.”
Lauren Reid, Alberta Barley’s Marketing and Events Coordinator says attending events like this has helped them educate consumers on the benefits of food-grade barley and it has shown results.
“I’ve noticed over the past year that there are more and more people who say they cook with barley, which is fantastic, more people that are branching out from just using it for beer or beef barley soup, more people are using barley flour for their cakes and cookies and that’s fantastic,” says Reid.
She says farmers want to them out here educating consumers as there are many misconceptions about the crop.
The chance to educate the public on the nutritional value of the food produced by farmers is not lost on Potato Growers of Alberta’s Cindy Fletcher. She is quite proud of her display talking about how healthy potatoes are and how seriously farmers take the job of producing safe food for consumers.
“My favourite thing to hear people say is, ‘WOW! I didn’t know that!’ I get that so many times a day and that really impresses me because it lets me know that I’m doing my job good,” says Fletcher, adding “Eat your potatoes!”
By the time the kids circulate through all the booths, live demonstrations, simulators and entertainment they are sure to be tired, but their knowledge of their food and where it comes from will have grown considerably because of answers they received from the people at the heart of the industry.