I’ve spent my entire life involved in the food system. My upbringing, education, career path and even marriage to a ranch girl have all involved agriculture. My experiences have allowed me to see many different sides of food and farming, but this perspective isn’t shared by the vast majority of Canadians.
The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity released its research at the end of 2019. The data showed that 91 percent of Canadians know little or nothing about farming practices, 46 percent are strongly concerned about the use of pesticides in food production, 38 percent are strongly concerned about eating genetically modified food and roughly two-thirds feel that animal rights videos are, or may be, representative of normal livestock practices.
As a farmer, agriculture advocate, food consumer and someone who takes pride in feeding my children healthy food, this makes me extremely unsettled.
Agriculture is part of the backbone of Canada. There was a time when everyone knew a farmer. We’ve now become heavily urbanized and no longer have parents, grandparents, aunties or uncles who consumers can ask about what’s happening on farms and ranches.
Today, less than three percent of Canadians have a direct tie to primary agriculture production that consumers are increasingly questioning what farmers are doing.
Interestingly, the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity also found that 60 percent of Canadians want to know more about farming practices. Agriculture in the Classroom has made numerous inroads with schools across the country and Farm & Food Care has developed a portfolio of different initiatives to engage adults in virtual and in-person farm tours, and includes a growing social media presence with consumers.
These efforts are building trust in agriculture, but moving the dial on public trust will require an effort from everyone involved in agriculture.
If we are to succeed in the future of food with new production tools and technologies, each of us has to engage with consumers. Transparency starts with discussions at the hockey rink, dance studio, community events and workplace. Conversations about what we’re doing in agriculture builds trust one person at a time. We need to engage consumers by being open and accepting of where they are coming from. The future of food production depends on our consumers, and we need them as much as they need us. If each of us takes the time to have these conversations, the future of food will be strong.
Clinton Monchuk, PAg, is executive director of Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan and farms with his family near Lanigan, Sask.