Oldman Watershed Council focuses on public relations

Southern Alberta’s Oldman Watershed Council is hoping to conscript farmers and ranchers in an ongoing quest to tell consumers about water, food production and good management.

OWC executive director Shannon Frank told those at the recent Alberta Irrigation Projects Association meeting that “a global implosion of trust” has affected the public view of agriculture, and the council’s own workshops have indicated social licence is the number one priority for participants, “ranked higher by you than even financial support and water quality.”

As an independent, science-based and politically neutral charity, Frank said the OWC is in a good position to address issues surrounding social licence.

“People are fed up with false marketing and advertising. People really crave authenticity and they want to hear directly from you, the farmer, the person on the land making the decisions day to day,” said Frank.

“(Farmers) are the people that have a lot more trust and credibility as well, but (consumers) want to be able to ask you the tough questions … and have a real frank discussion. We can help you reach these people, your customers and the ones criticizing you.”

The OWC needs speakers to talk with consumers at events, provide photos for OWC use and show their passion for agriculture and the watershed, she added.

Taren Hager, watershed legacy program manager with the OWC, said farmers, ranchers and others in the region have helped with many projects in the past nine years, including off-stream livestock watering, planting willows in stream banks and helping control invasive weeds.

Now the council wants to host a series of agricultural tours.

“We have to get people out on the land to see it with their own eyes. There is no substitute for this,” said Hager.

The goal is to build stronger relationships between urban and rural dwellers.

“We want to get in touch with our producers that we’ve worked with in the past that have implemented stewardship projects with us, and even ones that haven’t, ones that are just interested in getting in-volved and showcasing their farms, kind of like open farm days,” Hager said in a later interview.

“The idea is to get consumers out on the landscape to further that education, what exactly is happening, why it’s important and how they can trust where their food is coming from and they can see firsthand this is OK, our food is being grown properly, producers are doing what they can, what they should be, to ensure that the food is safe and that the land is healthy.

“That’s kind of the main goal of … the watershed legacy program.”

Hager said the council is seeking more farmers and ranchers willing to participate, whether by opening their operation to a tour or contributing in some other way. Though she acknowledged that time is in short supply for farmers during the prime, summer tour season, there are also projects of interest, such as off-stream watering or riparian protection, that aren’t as time sensitive.

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