Farm family opens doors to urban students

Young visitors to the Flittons’ Twin Valley Farms learn about irrigation, machinery, grain, livestock and ag technology

CHAMPION, Alta. — The grades 1 and 2 students from a Calgary school crowded around “Farmer Ryan” as he talked about the equipment used at Twin Valley Farms.

“Just think, kids. When you grow up and finish college, you can buy a house. Or you can buy a sprayer!”

It was an amusing moment for the teachers and parent helpers, considering the $500,000 price tag involved, but for the kids it was more fun to see the sprayer wings unfold and to climb on the large grain cart.

Farmer Ryan is Ryan Flitton, one of the Flitton family members and owners of Twin Valley Farms, who shut down farming operations for a few days each year to host visiting school groups from the city.

It’s a major undertaking but one the Flittons accept.

“Basically, it’s to help kids learn about farming and why we farm the way we do,” said Bev Flitton, who organizes the materials and volunteers to manage the farm visits.

“There’s so much misinformation out there … so we just feel that it’s kind of our responsibility as a farmer to help explain to people that what we’re growing is safe and we’re certainly responsible and we’re looking after the land. There’s such a disconnect between city and farm anymore.”

For three days this spring, June 17-19, groups from Grades 1, 2 and 4 from Calgary schools learned about irrigation, machinery, grain, livestock and agriculture technology.

That education included getting sprayed by the end-gun of an irrigation pivot, planting a sunflower in a take-home pot, grinding wheat into flour and getting their hands dirty in soil samples.

Each year is a little bit different for visitors, said Bev. The family has been hosting students for about eight years now and she describes the response as wonderful.

Teachers report that the farm visit is a highlight for many students, some of whom talk about it for years afterward.

The Flittons farm about 13,500 acres, about half owned and half leased. There are 2,700 acres under irrigation and crops include fababeans, peas, canola and various cereals. There are also 100 cows, which Gary Flitton describes as his addiction.

The whole family helps with the farm visit event, assisted by numerous friends, neighbours and business colleagues.

“I think this is one of the more important things we do in a year,” said Gary. “We try and tell the story that we’re a corporate farm but we’re a family farm. It’s a corporate structure. We have employees that work with us but the basic structure is all family.”

Gary leads the event with a description of farming as it used to be and the improvements that have been made through use of technology such as zero tillage and herbicide use.

Though some of the message is likely a bit advanced for the younger students, he said it is important to educate teachers and parent volunteers as well.

Bev shares Gary’s view about the importance of helping inform others about agriculture. But she also admits to a selfish aspect of the annual farm tours.

“It makes everybody clean up the yard.”

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