Brooks (Rural Roots Canada) – In a bid to strengthen the agricultural ecosystem and promote collaboration among various agriculture groups and stakeholders, Craig Lester, founder of Rural Roots Canada, has successfully transformed a long-standing idea into reality with the inaugural RRC Agri-Food & Agri-Tourism Summit.

The event marks a significant milestone in bringing together producers, ag-tourism operators, educators, post-secondary institutions, agribusinesses, local government, and non-profits in the Brooks Newell region under one umbrella. The idea formed in Lester’s mind during a visit to the Food and Agriculture Organization‘s Committee on World Food Security (CFS51) in Rome last October as part of his Nuffield Canada Agriculture Scholarship studies.

He envisioned a platform where all involved could engage in constructive discussions, identify common challenges, and explore collaborative solutions.

“I thought bringing everyone together under this umbrella would raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities everyone was facing,” says Lester. “It was my hope we would be able to see some places where issues intersected, creating an opportunity to build solutions and collaboration.”

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Upon returning to Alberta, Lester set about finding a region that might be interested in such an opportunity and landed on the Brooks Newell region. He was impressed following a presentation it gave at last year’s IFAJ World Congress that showcased its agricultural heritage and expertise. 

The summit, which brought together people from around the region to discuss various issues and featured insightful and lively discussions, exceeded Lester’s expectations.

“Taking something like this from thought into reality, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out and it turned out one hundredfold better than I ever imagined,” he says. “I lost track of the number of times where a conversation started on one side of the room about the issues they were facing, and by the time it got to the other side of the room, several options had been presented on that issue, and we started to see an opportunity to collaborate and discuss how to build it moving forward.”

A key highlight of the summit was the focus on agricultural education, particularly at the high school level. Other discussions included attracting people to the region through tourism initiatives and supporting producers in enhancing their operations. 

The summit also laid the groundwork for future endeavours, including the Agri-Food Thought Lab powered by Rural Roots Canada. The thought lab is a place that brings people together and keeps them informed to increase collaboration and launch projects that will benefit the entire region. 

“I was hoping to create a situation where we could identify where the thought lab could best be placed, and where it should operate so that we’re not overlapping with what local government, businesses, and schools are already providing. By bringing all these people together, we identified those spaces and brought to the forefront the initiatives already within the region that we can support and build up.” 

Lester plans to make the summit an annual event to foster more discussion and tackle more agricultural issues within the region. 

“We hope to continue to build on everything that is happening within the Brooks Newell region and focus on keeping it local. We’re hoping to raise awareness of the tools out there to help them with their operations, no matter what part of the ag sector they’re in.” 

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