As I previously wrote in a column for Farmtario in November last year, one of the most endearing memories I have from elementary school is when a classmate brought in a dairy calf for “show and tell.”
Local students get a Bite of Brant
What started as a one-day dairy event has evolved into an interactive two-day hands-on opportunity for Brant county students to…
I still remember that day vividly nearly 40 years later; how the calf’s tongue felt on my fingers when I let it suck on my hand, and how interesting it was to listen to my classmate’s father tell us about their dairy farm.
Another fond memory is visiting Bennett’s Apples & Cider and riding on a wagon through the orchards and getting to eat a yummy cider donut in the farm store, and how excited I was to bring some apples home to my mom.
Not only was Bennett’s in my hometown and not far from the school, but the youngest son was another one of my elementary school classmates. Like the classmate who brought the calf to school, he was one of several kids I knew who was from a farm.
But like the majority of my classmates, I was two or more generations removed from agriculture.
That generation gap was even greater for kids living in more urban areas, and the gap has grown even greater since that time.
I wanted to study agriculture post-secondary and have always had a natural interest. My parents have always been a bit confused about this. Was my early exposure to farm life the catalyst for this? It’s very likely.
That’s why agriculture education is so important.
Without those early exposures to agriculture, I may not have been as curious about farming and food production.
At the Bite of Brant event last month, I was reminded about how powerful educating children about agriculture can be.
Now in its 27th year, the event brings hundreds of students from Brant County-area schools to the Burford Fairgrounds where they can learn about local agriculture, how food is produced, and some of the technology involved in farming and 20 different stations.
Of course, live animals are always a big hit with children — the event featured baby goats, sheep, as well as beef and dairy calves — but students were captivated at every station. Volunteers and local farmers did a great job of explaining things like how cider is pressed, what type of jobs there are in agriculture, why soil is important for not only growing crops but preventing erosion, what types of products (both edible and non-edible) come from plants and animals.
Speaking to several teachers at the event, I was not surprised that all of them thought the event was a good opportunity for their students to gain a greater understanding of where their food comes from.
What did surprise me was that each teacher identified a link between attending the event and healthy eating. Each teacher I spoke with told me they believed when students have a better understanding of how food is produced, they make healthier food choices.
They couldn’t provide hard evidence, just their observations.
“(Required)” indicates required fields
But it could also have something to do with pizza.
Before boarding their bus to return to their schools, students are given a parting meal of a slice of pizza, an apple, and a carton of milk. The teachers explained to me the food provides an opportunity to talk about, for example, how the wheat for the pizza was made, how farmers care for the animals that provided the meat toppings, cheese, and milk, and these products are produced locally.
The organizers of Bite of Brant knew the power of pizza right from the start. In its 25th anniversary booklet, one of the first members of the organizing committee, Stuart Budd, writes about how pizza was an early focus.
“That (pizza) gave us many angles on which to base hands-on workstations where the students could get up close and personal with farm animals and farm technology. Kids could make the connections about where the ingredients for that pizza came from.”
It was encouraging for me to speak with organizers and teachers connected with Bite of Brant and witness the interest the students had at each station.
Connecting with consumers has been a challenge for agriculture in the last several decades, and organizations are always looking for new ways to engage.
You’ll notice several other articles in our May 1 issue of Farmtario showing how Food and Farm Care Ontario and Ontario Pork are doing this.
The common thread is education. And agricultural knowledge may just be a catalyst for the next generation of consumers who didn’t grow up on a farm to preserve the future of agriculture.