Brianne Curtis was the Grain Discovery Zone ambassador for the 2016 fair and event season. This is her personal account of her experience touring the province promoting agriculture and the Good in Every Grain.
SINCE 2012, THE Grain Discovery Zone event trailer has made the trek across the province visiting rural and urban events promoting grain farming and Ontario grain farmers. I was fortunate enough to work for Grain Farmers of Ontario as the Grain Discovery Zone ambassador for eight months while also completing my schooling this past summer. From Windsor, to Sudbury, to Ottawa and to the Niagara region, I visited every Grain Farmers of Ontario district across the province with the trailer talking to many different people about grains.
I grew up on a grain and beef cattle operation just outside of Grand Valley, Ontario and pursued agriculture with my post-secondary studies. I first completed a diploma in agriculture at the University of Guelph Ridgetown College before moving to Olds, Alberta where I enrolled in the bachelor of applied science, agribusiness degree program at Olds College. As part of this program, students are required to complete eight months of in class studies and an eight month field study in a job of their choice. I was able to have a very unique job placement as the Grain Discovery Zone ambassador.
I wanted to work in public relations, educating consumers about agriculture because, coming out of school, I understood the information gap between consumers and producers and the impact that has on the agriculture community. I wanted to be actively involved in bridging that information gap. I believe the Grain Discovery Zone is about as close to that goal as I could get.
Over the course of the season, I took the trailer to nearly 30 events where I was able to connect with non-farming consumers from both urban and rural areas as well as Grain Farmers of Ontario farmer-members. I talked with many different types of people and also participated in agriculture education programs that taught students about life on a farm today.
The most common questions and conversations I had this year focussed on very basic farm operations such as the equipment used, where the grains go after harvest, and how a farm is able to stay profitable. The toys in the corn box (the main feature of the Grain Discovery Zone trailer) were really helpful in describing the equipment used in the fields.
Based on the questions I received, I discovered many consumers are still in the dark when it comes to their food. The consumers I talked with did not know that popcorn and grain corn are two different types of corn, that most farmers do not mill their wheat into flour on farm, and that the government does not control the purchase and sale of grains in the market.
The concerns raised by fair visitors about food and agricultural practices were really dependent on where I was in the province. The closer I was to the Greater Toronto Area, concerns tended to be around biotechnology and gluten in food items. In more rural areas, closer to farms, the bigger concerns were over land prices and yield impacts.
The weather was also a huge topic across the province for both consumers and farmer-members. Some consumers understood the drought concerns many farmers were facing while others assumed it was a good year because of the lack of rain delays. I helped them understand that too much or too little rain isn’t good during the growing season — an obvious observation from a farmer’s perspective but one that people in the city don’t fully understand the implications of. It was interesting describing to consumers the yield impacts I had personally seen, heard about from farmers, or read about online over the course of the summer.
I believe the greatest impact that people from the agriculture community can have in changing the attitudes of consumers is through face to face conversations and interactions. This is what my summer mainly consisted of. Through my interactions with people at the Grain Discovery Zone, misconceptions were clarified, questions were answered, and consumers were able to make a connection with a farmer — something that many do not have the opportunity to do very often these days. Many consumers walked away with a more open mind towards the grain farming community and the practices that are used on many operations today.
I also think consumers were pleasantly surprised to see a changing farming demographic. Many were surprised that I still live on and actively participate in my family’s farming operations. Whenever we had young grain farmers on hand during larger events, people again were pleasantly surprised to see the younger generation actively farming and pursuing careers within the agriculture community.
Travelling almost 12,000 km across the province was definitely an adventure. From the GPS malfunctioning close to the U.S. border, to stopping for moose on the Trans-Canada highway in Northern Ontario, to driving a pickup truck and trailer in Toronto traffic, I had some unique experiences; but the Grain Discovery Zone and I arrived in (mostly) one piece every time. •