GFO’S PRESENCE AT THE ROYAL HAD A BIG IMPACT
|“Why do farmers let the plants die in the field?’
“Doesn’t it take MORE energy to make ethanol than it produces?”
“Is there a lot of estrogen in soybeans? Is it safe to feed my son tofu?”
“Don’t grain farmers get tired of eating corn and soybeans all the time?”
these questions may seem like works of fiction, but they are all actual questions Grain Farmers of Ontario staff and directors received at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair this past November.
There is no doubt that there are a lot of misconceptions out there about farming and it is this precise reason that GFO spends 10 days in November in Toronto. The exhibit featured food, fuel and fibre products made with corn, soybeans and wheat which sparked lots of good questions from the more than 300,000 visitors that passed through the Royal.
hands on conversations
“One of the biggest hits this year was our interactive hand mills,” says Meghan Burke, communications coordinator with Grain Farmers of Ontario and organizer of the Grains in Your Life exhibit. “Grinding wheat and corn was a big hit with both adults and children,” she says.
In fact, some of the best conversations happened around the hand mills. “We had many grind the wheat and then, pointing at the flour they had made, ask what it was,” says Burke. GFO staff and directors spent lots of time with people explaining that flour was 100 percent wheat and using a sieve to separate it to show the simple difference between white and whole wheat flour.
The wheat grinder also sparked several other questions and discussions about what types of wheat make what types of flour and what flour is used for. In one discussion with several middle school-aged children, a GFO staff member asked those gathered to list the food products that contain flour. Cookies and bread were called out followed by an unexpected response: “Rice!” said by one child in the group with much conviction. The booth staff gently corrected the child and then had a whole conversation about the difference between Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes and Bran Flakes cereal.
bringing the field into town
This year the exhibit featured real corn, soybean and wheat plants at its entrance. “I watched lots of people rush past the soybean plants out front to get to the booth and ask me what soybeans look like,” says Burke with a chuckle. “Soybeans are somewhat mysterious to a lot of people. Many recognize corn and wheat in the field but don’t know what soybeans look like. I saw a lot of wide-eyes when I showed them the plants at the booth,” she continues.
Many were also surprised to learn that grain corn and sweet corn aren’t the same thing. With a corn sheller at the booth, many asked if we had let the corn dry just for the fair; they were shocked to learn that sweet corn is harvested at 78 percent moisture while grain corn farmers try to harvest their corn as close to 15.5 percent moisture as possible. This sparked a lot of conversations about the many factors grain corn farmers must consider when harvesting including the weather, the calendar date, stalk strength and grain quality.
The exhibit also offers GFO a chance to address some more controversial concerns. Exhibit staff fielded several questions about the estrogen levels of soybeans. An article titled “Will Soy Make My Son Gay,” published in Macleans in 2008 is still resonating with people. GFO staff assured Royal attendees that recent research at the University of Guelph by Dr. Alison Duncan showed that consuming soy products had no adverse effects on male fertility. These conversations also ended on a positive note as it provided a good opportunity to talk about the health benefits of soybean products.
Corn ethanol has also taken a hit in the media recently and many fair-goers came to the booth with questions. “We were able to dispel a lot of myths about ethanol,” says Burke. “A lot of people are under the impression that ethanol takes more energy to produce than it creates and I was able share information and point those who wanted more information to Dr. Terry Daynard’s research,” she continues.
“It’s these conversations that really make our presence at the Royal worthwhile,” says Burke.
One young boy had really enjoyed the booth. As he left, he stopped by the basket of soybeans, put one in his pocket, turned back and said “Miss, I’m going to plant this at home in the spring and grow a soybean plant!” •