Opening minds to agriculture

PILOT PROGRAM EXPOSES RURAL KIDS TO LOCAL AGRICULTURAL CAREER OPPORTUNITIES

there are very few issues in agriculture where all members of the industry are unified in one belief, but nearly everyone associated with farming today agrees that the average student does not know enough about where their food comes from or who produces it.

As the industry collectively becomes more concerned about the future of the agricultural work force, a new program is emerging that offers an opportunity to entice bright young individuals, most without any agricultural background, to take an interest in the business of food and fibre production.

“Northumberland Open Minds” is a pilot program now in its second year.  The program was brought to Northumberland  by the Community Development and Training Centre (CDTC). Operating for one week per session, Open Minds was first introduced last year to senior elementary students by Madeline Currelly, the CEO of the CDTC. This October, the program offered a selection of career sites to students, that included careers at the Northumberland County, the Cobourg YMCA,  and finally, agricultural careers in Northumberland County.

local career development
Having watched many local youth flock to cities to pursue a perceived greater abundance of career opportunities, Currelly was determined to retain more young people in the county. She designed her version of the Open Minds program for students entering grades 7 and 8 because they would soon be selecting high school classes that could eventually prove critical to their future careers. Currelly believes career exposure at this time helps students make the best choices for themselves and that’s why she would like to expand the program to include as many students in grades 7 and 8 as possible.

“These students are just moving into career choosing,” Currelly says. “We have 90 students out studying careers this week alone. It’s an intensive week for everyone, but I’m sure thoughts of farming and the community are in their heads.”

internationally renowned
Currelly first learned about Open Minds while attending the International Education Business Partnership Conference in Helsinki, Finland. The Campus Calgary program was entered into the 2008 Global Best Awards competition by the Calgary Board of Education, who had initiated the program together with the Devonian Foundation in 1993 at the Calgary Zoo. Their entry won the Building Learning Communities category and the Developing Skills for the Future Workforce category in the Americas division. Currelly decided to start her own version of the program in Northumberland.

demonstrating diversity
The agricultural offering of the program is a little different from any previous version of the program admits Currelly since no single farm location can offer the same diversity as the locations offered. In order to give students a well-rounded understanding of agriculture, Currelly partnered with Northumberland County’s Agricultural & Creative Economy Coordinator, Trissia McAllister. Together they designed the program to allow for in-class speakers from the farming community in the mornings and on-site excursions in the afternoon. Representatives of all the major livestock farming sectors, the grain production sector, horticulture, aquaculture, viticulture, value added operations and processing sectors participated throughout the week. McAllister says it was important that the agriculture program was diverse.

 “I can’t think of another industry where the owner, operator and floor manager are asked to speak on behalf of an entire industry,” she said. “And yet we’re consistently asking our local representative to speak for all of agriculture. To be able to hit 20 sectors in one week, that’s unheard of and a really unique opportunity.”

representing grain
One speaker McAllister asked to represent the grain production sector was Matt Thrower of Northumberland Grain, a local crop input supplier and grain elevator. Thrower explained his role as a Grain Sales Associate with the company, educating the students, parent volunteers and the participating teacher about the role of crop inputs in the production of their food. At the end of every presentation students asked questions about the education each speaker had received. As a graduate of the University of Guelph, Thrower was able to help the students understand the importance of both an undergraduate and graduate degree in agriculture.
 
“This was a really nice young bunch of kids,” said Thrower after the tour had finished. “It was a pleasure to have the kids tour our facility and learn about what we do here. Anytime I spend teaching kids about agriculture in a real life setting is time well spent. Even if only one or two of them decide to pursue a career in agriculture that would be a real success.”

Currelly says the attitude of people like Matt Thrower and the support of the agriculture community was tremendous throughout the week. “My heart is very attached to agriculture so this is very rewarding for me. The willingness of the agricultural community to spend time during this week at this very busy time demonstrates how committed they are to the continuance of agriculture.” •