Consumers have questions about agriculture but only some have direct access to farmers so they can ask them.
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Enter the Ask a Farmer kiosk, Farm and Food Care Ontario’s interactive video booth at which people pose questions to farmers.
FFCO unveiled the mini-barn-like structure with a bench and standalone iPad-style recording stand, constructed during the pandemic, last year at the CNE.
Why it matters: The kiosk is an interactive and fun way to pose questions to agriculture experts.
“Remember Speaker’s Corner in downtown Toronto? This is the agriculture Speaker’s Corner,” said executive director Kelly Daynard. “We challenge non-farming Canadians to go into it, hit the record button and ask a question of a farmer.”
Daynard said questions range from the philosophical, like what came first, the chicken or the egg, if there’s a difference between brown and white eggs and whether horses sleep standing up. Others queries addressed concerns about how farmers care for sick animals, if people should buy organic, and the best place to grow crops in Canada.
Daynard said some people expected immediate answers.
“They walk in there and think Farmer John will pop out of the screen and answer their question. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s a good next step and a fun, new way of engaging.”
Daynard said the kiosk was rolled out at farm shows and association meetings this winter to collect answers to the accumulated questions from experts, but it wasn’t without its challenges.
Farmers have 100 seconds to formulate answers, and it took many of them a few tries to fit inside the time limit.
People don’t have a long social media attention span, so Daynard advises farmers to be short, funny, engaging and talk about what they love to do.
“We’re airing them on a new TikTok channel that basically the consumer — mostly children — ask the question, and then (the farmer will) say, ‘Hey, I’m Farmer Murray, let me answer your question.’”
The Ask A Farmer’s reach is expanding with new applications for farmers’ markets, including Ottawa’s Byward Market, and several fairs across Ontario, including the CNE and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
“We have big visions for this,” Daynard said. “We have this dream of eventually having a full-time student that could take (the kiosk) places and get those questions asked and answered.”
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Over the past three years, Farm and Food Care has used funding provided through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriCompetitiveness program to develop several successful campaigns to raise the profile of Ontario and Canada’s agriculture sector.
“We have done this beautiful Faces Behind Food campaign for the last number of years, interviewing people across Canada that work in agriculture,” said Daynard. “It could be a hoof trimmer; it could be a milk truck driver; it could be a seasonal agricultural worker and telling their stories on Instagram and Facebook.”
In the last year, 99 new profiles generated more than 56,000 likes, shares and comments and added more than 22,000 images to FFCO’s photo library.
The spin-off More Than a Migrant Worker project, launched in 2021, won the best social media campaign award directed at the general public at the Canadian Agri-Food Marketers Alliance in 2022.
The project allows the public to gain insight into Ontario’s seasonal worker program while learning about the individuals who help Ontario farmers grow food.
FFCO and Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, who partnered on the project, shared the award and a certificate of merit for the website directed at the general public.
In 2022 the project generated video and photographs of 50 workers and six growers across the province’s greenhouse, berry, apple, potato, asparagus and grape operations. As a result, its YouTube channel has 41 videos that garnered more than 2,300 views and Facebook reached more than 370,000 users.