Ontario’s pork industry is taking a renewed approach to consumer and agriculture education events this year.
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Starting with an interactive Pig Mobile, a spring Hambassador training event, and building on a collection of new online resource tools, the industry is ready to hit the road.
“About two per cent of Canadians have a direct connection to a farm anymore, leaving a huge gap where most people don’t understand the work and care it takes to raise animals and produce pork,” says Stacey Ash, director of communications and consumer marketing with Ontario Pork.
Why it matters: The pandemic provided an opportunity for farm organizations to develop updated consumer education tools.
“That’s why we’re invested in meeting consumers where they are, at events and shows, and helping producers and industry spokespeople develop the skills and confidence to represent Ontario’s pork sector effectively.”
When the pandemic paused in-person events and education opportunities, Ontario Pork took the opportunity to reinvent its popular Pig Mobile. The original unit, a 26-foot trailer, featured three stages of a pig’s life — a sow and litter of piglets, three-month weaner pig and a six-month market animal. The new 24-foot trailer extends the farm to plate story to include the entire food value chain.
“The Pig Mobile has proven to be a fabulous tool, and we’ve extended the messaging to help people feel more confident about the pork industry,” says Ash.
Ontario Pork consulted event organizers, producers and industry representatives so the new unit reflects the diversity of the pork sector. Information about career opportunities, an interactive supply chain story, animal care videos and displays are new features to the trailer.
The main attraction, live pigs, has been scaled back to a single display featuring a larger viewing area and modern equipment including in-barn monitors and an expandable stall for a sow and piglets.
Connecting with consumers
“If we don’t use our own voice to tell people how we raise our animals, someone else will,” says Charity Veldhuizen, Ontario pork producer and Pig Mobile volunteer. “It’s important we step out of our comfort zones and step off the farm to meet consumers in person. It means a lot to people when they can ask us questions and hear answers from real farmers.”
It’s been nearly 40 years since agriculture education pioneers Ron and Sharon Douglas developed the concept of a pig mobile and introduced it to showcase the pork industry. The couple participated in the recent Hambassador training day that saw more than 30 pork industry volunteers in attendance. They listened to first-hand experiences from seasoned event volunteers, learned about the new trailer and got tips for interacting with consumers and sharing stories on social media.
Known as Hambassadors, this group of producers, veterinarians, feed specialists, processors, students and livestock transporters will support the Pig Mobile at consumer events including the Canadian National Exhibition, Western Fair and Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, along with regional events across the province.
Ash explains that, while everyone is passionate about their role in the pork industry, the goal of the Hambassador program is to help participants feel more confident when interacting with the public.
The spring training day focused on understanding the audience, identifying the types of information and level of detail they are looking for and the importance of being honest and accurate when answering questions.
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“We’re all experts in our field, but when we interact with consumers at the events, it’s important to meet them where they are and understand what they want to learn about,” says Ash.
Veldhuizen says it’s been rewarding to connect with people and share on-farm experiences. She looks for ways to connect with people, like relating to their experiences as pet owners.
“It’s always gratifying to watch people have light bulb moments when they make a connection or learn something,” says Veldhuizen. “And people often amplify the information when they walk away and share what they’ve learned with their kids or friends.”
Adjusting to post-pandemic crowds
Ontario Pork has enhanced its online pork education tools and resources through ExperienceOntarioPork.com. Focusing on parents and teachers, a new suite of printable resources, interactive games and videos were introduced and grew throughout the pandemic.
The resources can also be accessed from QR codes included in the design of the Pig Mobile. Ash notes the use of QR codes became popular again as a result of the pandemic and can replace some traditional educational handouts.
Last year saw a surge in attendance at most agriculture-related events across the province. Ash believes people were excited to be out after pandemic restrictions were lifted and took advantage of the ability to attend in-person events.
“Attendance will be hard to predict this year,” she notes.
Those interested in representing the Ontario pork industry at an upcoming event can contact Ontario Pork for more information.
“You don’t have to be producer. We have an amazing supply chain, and we’re always looking to people to share their story,” says Ash.