Bringing people to the farm – virtually

WEB-BASED ACTIVITIES TEACH NON-FARMERS ABOUT FARMING

WHEN IT COMES to talking to consumers about food and farming, agriculture has two big problems.

First, consumers do not know how food is grown and produced. Second, anyone wanting to be heard amongst all the other media messages out there has to be innovative, creative and entertaining. With each food-related issue that hits the headlines, consumer interest in food and farming increases just a little bit more. Buying local, the 100 mile diet and reducing our environmental impact are also driving this interest.

Unfortunately most people have very few opportunities to meet real farmers or to actually visit real farms in order to see for themselves what farmers do and why they do it.

But AGCare will soon have a solution to this dilemma. Thanks to funding from the Agricultural Adaptation Council, AGCare will be producing four virtual farm tours focusing on grain and oilseed, vegetable and fruit production. Consumers can learn about food and farming from the comfort of their own computer and farmers can demonstrate and explain what they do without having to invite visitors onto their farms.

In 2006, AGCare’s sister group, the Ontario Farm Animal Council, launched a series of virtual farm tours – much like virtual home tours offered by real estate agents – designed to let people learn about livestock and poultry production in Ontario. Hosted on the www.farmissues.com website, the project has grown over the years to include 17 different tours spanning everything from beef, sheep and deer/elk to dairy, eggs, goats and more.

When arriving on the site, visitors can click on various parts of an aerial farm photograph to view close up, panoramic views of the fields or barns and to meet the farmers who live and work there. Once inside the barns or other buildings, pop-up screens explain what’s happening and answer common questions like “What are elk antlers used for?” or “What are those goats eating?”

Visitors also learn about a variety of best management practices (including crop protection, fertilizers and GM crops), environmental initiatives, biosecurity, food safety and more. Video clips are an added feature of the tours and on the currently available tours, show farmers working with their cattle, sheep being sheared, elk being fed, a lamb being born, cows being milked, and much more.

In addition to being online, the tours will be distributed by CD to all Ontario elementary schools along with a teacher guide of suggested activities. The existing tours receive more than two million hits per year from all over the world, although the heaviest traffic comes from inside Canada.

We’ve been working on the grain and oilseed project since the beginning of this year’s growing season and we’ve managed to gather some great footage and images of wheat, soybeans and corn as well as planting, spraying and harvesting. Blythe Brae Farms in Oxford County is the host for this particular tour and we appreciate the help and support we’ve received from Valerie Hobbs and her family for this project.

We’re excited about this new initiative – and would like to extend a special thank you to the Grain Farmers of Ontario, Syngenta, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers and the Ontario Farm Animal Council for contributing financially towards this project. We couldn’t have secured the Agricultural Adaptation Council funding without that support. •

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THE ONTARIO GRAIN FARMER magazine strives to be the number one source of information for our province’s grain farmers. With a balanced mix of production, marketing, technology, research, and general interest articles, we provide farmers with valuable information in an easy-to-read format.

As the flagship publication of Grain Farmers of Ontario, the Ontario Grain Farmer is a magazine that is made by farmers, for farmers. The magazine is an important tool that supports the organization’s vision to drive the Ontario grain industry to become a global leader.