Fighting for ag

A high school in Sussex, New Brunswick is fighting to keep its agricultural class.

According to a story at CBC news, a teacher at the school was told the Agriculture 12-0 class would be cancelled. A campaign to keep the class extended its life by another year, but the long-term future of the program hasn’t been decided yet by the Department of Education. The department did, according to the story, suggest turning the Agriculture 12-0 class into an environmental science class, with a two-week unit on agriculture. In an effort to maintain the class, students and teachers have planted a garden on the school property and they’re hoping that move will help sway the province into keeping the Agriculture 12-0 class as is.

 

At almost the same time the students in Sussex were unveiling their new garden, Farm Credit Canada released its twice-a-year Farmland Values Report. The report started in 1990, and twice a year, 245 benchmark farm properties are appraised for their value. The selected properties represent the most prevalent  classes of agricultural soil in each part of the country, says FCC, and changes in value are weighted based on cultivated farmland per acre.

FCC found that New Brunswick farmland values were unchanged during the first half of 2012, following a 1.3 per cent increase in the second half of 2011, and no change in the first half of that year. Farmland values have increased or remained static in New Brunswick since reaching a peak increase of 6.3 per cent in the last half of 2008.

Sussex has long been known as one of New Brunswick’s strongest agricultural areas and as the milk producing hub of the province. But according to FCC’s report, “the area continues to see an ongoing trend of large acreages and former farmland purchased for rural residential use and hobby farming. Agriculture transactions were limited by this type of activity, along with the expansion of potash mining in the area. Moreover, dairy farm expansions in this area were limited as a result of the lack of available production quota.”

Nationally, we’re seeing a shift away from agriculture too. My colleague Owen Roberts, The Urban Cowboy, writes about a major change at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.

So if some of the statistics show a decline in traditional farming in Sussex, is it reasonable to teach students about agriculture? Or is it time to move agriculture to the history class instead?

No.

Agriculture needs the support of community, and that means including it as a high school course in agriculturally rich areas and keeping its name in traditional agricultural-related events.

The agriculture landscape of Canada is changing but the change should be considered an opportunity.  If there are an increasing number of hobby farms in the Sussex area, purchased by the parents and grandparents of the students who attend Sussex High School, then an agriculture course is key to helping the younger generation learn a bit about farming. By nurturing the family’s existing desire for rural life as they start their new home in the country, agriculture in the high school could turn the love for gardening or a backyard chicken flock into a career choice for the students.

How do you promote agriculture?

Loved these nice signs at the farm gate that welcomed us!

Open Farm Day was held in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba on Sunday. In the Maritimes, the sun was shining, the skies were blue and the breeze was brisk. It was a perfect day for a trip to the farm.

Even though I write about agriculture, I don’t live on a farm and I don’t have any relatives close by who farm. I try to make my kids aware about where their food comes from, but it’s a constant discussion, isn’t it? There isn’t a lot of ag education going on in my kids’ school, so Open Farm Day is a great chance for a bit of education, mixed in with a lot of fun.

Each of the farms had lots of great promotional material about agriculture — word searches, colouring books, fact sheets. My daughter scooped up all of the information she could find and talked about sharing it with some of her friends. I think next year, my husband and I will each take a carload of kids and their friends and head out to area farms during Open Farm Day.

So what do you do to educate the kids you know about food? What do you do to educate their friends?

In areas of the world where agriculture is more prominent, it may be easier to get in touch with farming. But agriculture in Atlantic Canada is small (but strong!). It takes a bit more effort to get our kids to link to their food.

That’s where the parents and the community come in to help. Whether it’s a community garden at the school, inviting a farmer in for Career Day or taking our kids to the corn maze, helping kids recognize, appreciate and know where their food comes from is an important job.

My son was endeared by this calf at Waldrow Dairy, near Sussex, N.B.
This calf was really more interested in seeing whether my daughter Olivia had a bottle of milk than she was in having her photo taken. Perryhill Farms, near Sussex, N.B.

Open Farm Day took root in NB

My daughter Olivia, who was three when this photo was taken, loved getting up close and personal with this lamb during Open Farm Day in 2003.

Over the last 12 years, an event celebrating local agriculture has spread across the country.

Open Farm Day is Sunday, Sept. 16. Several other provinces also hold Open Farm Day on the same weekend.

The first Open Farm Day in Canada was held in New Brunswick in 2000. Karen Davidge, a farmer near Fredericton, N.B., says one of her neighbour’s was on a fall trip to Maine when she heard about that state’s Open Farm Day. She collected promotional material — which described the one-day event as a time when farmers of all sectors open their gates and invite the general public to visit — and brought it home to New Brunswick, handing it over to Davidge.

Davidge was a member of the provincial farm organization’s education committee and the group took the idea and ran with it.

“We said, ‘let’s go for it’ and we did,” Davidge recalls. That year, 61 farms throughout the province opened their gates and 6,000 members of the public flocked in. The event expanded throughout Atlantic Canada, drawing in thousands of visitors. Looking back through some old stories, around 12,000 people visited farms during the Open Farm Days of the early 2000s.

Throwing open the farm gate and inviting the general public in can be a bit of a scary proposition for farmers. There’s a high threat of disease — who knows where all of those boots have walked and now they’re mingling among crops and livestock — a farmer’s income.

Open Farm Day was cancelled in New Brunswick in 2001 because of the outbreak of the highly contagious foot and mouth disease (which can infect cows, sheep, goats and hogs) in the United Kingdom. By implementing biosecurity measures like having visitors wash the bottom of their shoes in disinfectant or viewing poultry or hogs through windows, farmers still have the chance to showcase their work, keep their product safe and further educate the public about the importance of keeping their animals and plants secure.

The day as evolved into a family event, with many taking their young children to provide insight into where their food comes from. The exposure, say the farmers, is priceless. There is no better way for the general public to find out that it’s families just like themselves operating farms.

http://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/financial/openfarmday/index.html

http://www.fermenbfarm.ca/?lang=en

http://www.meetyourfarmer.ca/openfarmday/

http://www.gov.pe.ca/af/openfarmday/index.php3?number=1023477&lang=E

My son Mark, two at the time, fell in love with feeding the calves at this dairy farm near Moncton during Open Farm Day in the early 2000s.