In 1930, the average farm in North America produced enough to feed 10 people. Today, thanks to far more efficient production methods, that same farm is capable of feeding some 150 people.
But as more people move into urban centres and away from the rural areas where their food is produced, the average consumer’s understanding of agriculture has shrunk considerably over the years. That lack of information, combined with a flood of misinformation on social media and elsewhere, has created a culture of doubt where many people don’t know what to believe when it comes to their food.
That’s one big reason why Ag for Life is here. The not-for-profit organization is passionate about helping people understand and appreciate where their food comes from, and that farm families working to produce it stay safe and injury-free. Collaborating with industry stakeholders, Ag for Life is continuously developing educational programming and hosting events to celebrate farming, safety, food and agriculture’s role in Alberta’s society, environment, economy and culture.
“The genesis of Ag for Life has been increasing understanding from the very beginning in 2011,” says Ted Menzies, Ag for Life board member. “We concluded there was a disconnect, not because people don’t care about agriculture, but just because they’re disconnected from it.”
Menzies knows well that consumers today want to know more about how their food is produced, that farmers protect the land they’re borrowing, and that safety is a priority. He believes education is the underpinning to increasing awareness and sees great potential in reaching out to young people.
“When you talk to children, they see ways to do things better. If you teach young people, they’ll come home with new information and ask why we’re doing things a certain way. They will teach their parents.”
Safety is a top priority for Ag for Life. Its goal is to drastically reduce the number of farm injuries and fatalities through a number of hands-on safety programs for Albertans of all ages. Its mobile Rural Safety Unit was introduced in 2018 and has since been a hit at schools and community events throughout the province.
“It’s been great,” says Menzies. “It’s interactive, electronic, all the things kids like to do. It attracts their attention in ways that they’ll remember a lot of it.”
The Rural Safety Unit’s seven interactive stations of digital, tactile and mechanical interactive displays cover hazard identification, large animals and equipment, utilities, risk assessment, chemicals and protective equipment.
Menzies’ own grandson attended the official unveiling of the safety trailer at Spruce Meadows.
“That was fun watching him playing all these games,” Menzies recalls. “He was very excited. That’s when I knew we had a hit on our hands. It was very well received all across the province last year. That was a win.”
Increasing ag awareness isn’t just for kids. Twice a year, Ag for Life hosts ConnectHER, a networking event that brings women together to inspire, encourage and connect with one another. The smaller gatherings offer a more intimate mix-and mingle opportunity with a portion of the night dedicated to a speaker and panel discussion on topics of interest to women in the agriculture field.
Carmen Sewell, marketing and communications director with Catalyst Group, has attended each event and recently spoke on a panel about work-life balance. As a farming mom of three, she has hands-on experience with the subject.
“These events have a nice light friendly atmosphere where everyone seems really interested in what everyone else is doing,” she says. “It’s great to have the opportunity to socialize off the farm with other ladies who work in the industry, but also many have a similar farm lifestyle too.
“We’ve heard from some ladies who’ve had impressive careers in the industry, talking about their experience and giving advice around the topic of networking. We’ve also focused on taking care of mental health. You never know what you’re going to get, but it’s all great stuff.”
ConnectHER events are agriculture-focused, but anyone is welcome. “Any time we can get people outside the industry interested in learning more about it is a great opportunity,” Sewell says.
All this good work deserves some celebration, and Ag for Life does not disappoint at its Harvest Gala each fall.
The fundraising event brings industry leaders together for an exciting night of fantastic food, live entertainment and silent auctions.
“These events are great for bringing the industry together,” Sewell says. “It’s a group of people who are all focused on the same long-term goal, which is production and growing food together.”
She adds that producers attending the event appreciate the opportunity to connect with other people in the industry who deal with their products further along the value chain, and also with other advocates and supporters of the industry who help to educate the public about how their food is produced.
“It helps us expand our network beyond our farm groups,” she says.
Highlights are the phenomenal food stations, the mingling hour and keynote speakers, including host and television personality Dave Kelly.
“When we have people attending who are at an arm’s length from agriculture, it’s always beneficial,” says Sewell. “To reach beyond our usual choir is great.”
Menzies agrees. “Every time we host the Harvest Gala, people find out who Ag for Life is.”