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Farmers eager to educate kids about agriculture

VULCAN, Alta. — Farmers are frequently told they need to reach out to their city cousins and show them where their food comes from.

One southern Alberta family took up the challenge by opening up their operation to Calgary schoolchildren for three days in May.

The idea was born in 2010 when Calgary teacher Natalie Cox approached her friend Ryan and his wife, Jenna Flitton, to see if she could bring her Grade 1 and 2 students to the family farm near Vulcan.

The family agreed and since then the field trip has grown into a three-day event involving the entire Flitton family, friends and neighbours as well as corporate sponsors.

More than 300 children show up for a day that talks about everything from where milk comes from to how a modern irrigation pivot works.

“We feel as a farm it is partly our responsibility as farmers to educate city people so that they know where their food comes from and that farms are good and safe,” said Bev Flitton.

The array of volunteers includes Bev and Gary Flitton and their adult children, Ryan and Jenna, Noel and Amy Flitton and daughter Richelle and her husband, Troy Stirling.

The family owns and operates Twin Valley Farms where they cultivate about 12,000 acres, growing barley, wheat, peas, canola and fababeans. Part of the operation is irrigated and also includes a 100 head cow herd.

Ryan talks via Skype before groups visit and then greets them as they arrive with information about what farmers do through games and hands-on activities.

At stations, the children learn about farming and the use of technologies like precision farming, genetically modified canola or chemicals like glyphosate.

“The kids come and have a feel good day,” said Gary. “They will walk away with that and have a connection with a farmer and their plate. They realize it just doesn’t come on the shelves by itself. Somebody grows it.

“The rest is to try and speak to the teachers,” he said, because the family sees the parents and teachers as the influencers.

Bev does much of the initial organizing and finds helpers and sponsors like Agriculture for Life, Ag for Evermore, UFA, Cargill and Bayer to help with funding and volunteers for the stations.

Children receive a goodie bag of homemade cookies, an apple, seed samples and activity books.

It is a big commitment for the family because it takes them away from farm work but they agree it has been well worth it over the years.

Cox says her students are ab-sorbing information that could stay with them for a lifetime. Information about soil, planting seeds, irrigation and animal care also fit the social studies and science curriculum.

“It is a lifelong experience for them. I know they are going to take what they learned here and anytime anyone talks about farming they are going to relate it back to this experience,” Cox said.

“The students I taught seven years ago still talk about it.”

Children learn about farming, but also volunteering.

“All these family members and community members come to-gether to put this day together for them and I think it is an amazing experience.”

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