A SUCCESSFUL DEBUT SEASON
ONE OF THE goals of Grain Farmers of Ontario is to be an information source for the public; to inform consumers how we grow our crops and highlight the many uses for Ontario grains. The Grain Discovery Zone was launched this year to help achieve that goal and provide a positive agricultural experience for urban and rural families.
The Grain Discovery Zone is an educational trailer exhibit which features a corn play box for small children and three video game stations for elementary students. There is also an adult rest area where videos about agricultural research are played.
Since February, when it debuted at Riverdale Farm in Toronto for Family Day, the Grain Discovery Zone has visited 24 fairs and events across the province.
Chantelle Leslie-Leach, a dairy and cash crop farmer from Cobden, was one of the Grain Discovery Zone guides this summer. She helped children with their experience in the trailer and answered questions from their parents. “I found that our exhibit gave parents a much-needed rest. It was a place their kids could play for 15 minutes or half an hour and while they were in the corn box we could start a conversation.”
“I was asked a lot of general questions about farming, like the time of year crops are planted and what the different crops were, and also questions about Grain Farmers of Ontario – who we are and what crops we represent,” says Leslie-Leach. “But I also had some interesting conversations about advancements in farming technology and how much we’ve progressed in even just the past ten years. There wasn’t any criticism, just an interest in understanding more.”
In addition to local fairs, Leslie-Leach also acted as a guide for elementary school groups at the International Plowing Match in Mitchell. “The Grain Discovery Zone was well received by teachers and their students. We were front and centre at the gates where the school buses were unloading. It was the best location to get their attention.”
Another guide is Megan Sykes, who has a background in theatre as well as experience working on a dairy farm in Arthur. She had the opportunity to interact with some of our farmer-members at the more rural fairs we stopped at. “Even people without kids have stopped by to talk to us about the exhibit and say they are glad we did this — that the kind of outreach we are doing is important.”
With the general public, Sykes has found it interesting what people ask about. “Because it is corn in the box, a lot of people ask about what products corn can be made of. They are surprised to learn that what they have heard called ‘cattle corn’ is the same corn that is used in human food, like cereal, as well as how many other non-food products are made from corn. I think this speaks to the disconnect people have with their food and where it comes from. Many are also surprised that this corn is a grain, they just think of corn as a vegetable.”
In addition to Grain Discovery Zone guides, the exhibit was manned by Grain Farmers of Ontario staff members.
“I really enjoyed seeing how well people enjoyed our exhibit. You could tell that they were having fun while learning,” says Mackenna Roth, Communications Coordinator Public Relations. “Each fair is a different experience. Some have been around for 150 years or more, and it was great to see the history and tradition showcased at these events.”
“I hope that the kids remember their experience playing our video games and playing in the corn and that it leads to continued conversations about agriculture with their parents at home, especially those families who live in urban areas and don’t have a lot of farm experience,” adds Roth.
Kristyn Kline, a Grain Buyer and Customer Relations Representative, had the opportunity to attend the Harrow Fair. “It was a hot weekend – but it went really well. People loved it. The biggest problem was getting the kids to leave!”
“The corn box sparked the majority of the conversations I had. One couple was curious if it was GM corn – and that led to a discussion on how they appreciate getting fact-based information about food production that allows them to make their own decisions,” says Kline. “It was also great to see parents having conversations with their kids about the toys they were playing with. The parents would read the descriptions of each piece of equipment and point out the specific toy so they would make the connection.”
Grain Farmers of Ontario CEO, Barry Senft, travelled to North Bay with the trailer. “It was a real magnet for the kids,” he notes, “The two to eight age group really enjoyed the corn box. And because it drew in the kids, it provided the opportunity for me to speak with the parents about issues like GM and overall farming techniques. It was nice to hear that, overall, people feel good about farmers and the work that we do.”
“What was really interesting is that when they wanted to leave, parents would say ‘let’s go to the rides’ and the kids would say ‘no!’ because they wanted to stay longer,” Senft adds.
Grain Farmers of Ontario hopes to build on the success of this first season with the Grain Discovery Zone by teaching even more people about grain farming next year. The exhibit is available for indoor events at arenas or exhibit halls during the winter and requests are already being made for fairs and events next spring and summer.
To request the Grain Discovery Zone for your event, go to http://www.gfo.ca/ Community/FairandEventOfferings.aspx •