Saskatchewan farmers learn how to combat misinformation, reach out to consumers with Farm to Fork tour
People involved in Saskatchewan agriculture know they need to connect with consumers who use made-in-Canada food products such as wheat, canola, beef, poultry, dairy products and packaged vegetables.
But how can someone reach busy food consumers in Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto or Vancouver and convince them that the Canadian-made food products they are buying are wholesome, safe and nutritious?
You follow a simple recipe, of course:
- Prepare a farm tour.
- Add a handful of respected “food influencers” from Canada and the United States.
- Place food influencers on a bus and show them around the countryside, where food is produced.
- Introduce guests to some farmers who grow food.
- Let sit and allow to mix.
- When visitors are ready, serve them a meal in the field, made with locally grown ingredients and prepared by the area’s most accomplished chefs and culinary experts.
- Send influencers home and wait for message to spread.
- Serves the entire agriculture industry.
Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan has been following this recipe for three years, says the organization’s executive director, Clinton Monchuk.
And so far, the results have been positive.
The goal of the Farm to Fork Tour is to dispel some of the myths and negative perceptions associated with modern agriculture and to develop a closer relationship between the people who produce food and the people who eat it.
“The idea behind this is to make sure that people who are talking about food in different ways … (have an opportunity) to understand Saskatchewan agriculture in a new sense,” said Monchuk.
“Give them a chance to actually visit a farm, and take a look at a RoGator sprayer, or a Massey combine, and understand a little bit more about Saskatchewan agriculture.”
This year’s tour, July 26-27, visited farms and food processing operations in the Saskatoon area.
Close to 20 visitors participated in the event, including food writers, chefs, photographers, food bloggers and post-secondary educators involved in the culinary arts.
Visitors this year came from across Canada and as far south as Nashville, Tennessee.
And after a gourmet-style meal, served al fresco at Agar’s Corner, all went away with a new appreciation for how food is produced.
“The big thing about this event is to make sure that they know the truth about agriculture,” said Monchuk, who farms near Lanigan, Sask.
“There is so much misinformation out there about food and how it is produced, so to actually have these food influencers come and see a farm is very important.”
In addition to touring the countryside, participants also had a chance to speak with farmers and ask tough questions about potentially sensitive topics, including herbicide use, genetically modified crops and the economics of primary food production.
Irvin Heuchert of Heuchert Farms Inc. opened his grain and oilseed farm to the tour group and answered questions about the advantages of using herbicides on his crops, the benefits of growing GM canola and the challenges involved with making annual cropping decisions and sticking to sustainable rotations.
“I think it’s important to be involved with these tours,” said Heuchert, who farms near Clavet, Sask., along with his son, Randy, and grandsons, Leland, Decland and Ryland.
“I think it’s important to get our message across as farmers to the consumer. These people (on the tour) are very influential with the consumer so talking to them is really a good way for us to get our message to the consumer.”
According to Monchuk, the disconnect between consumers and producers has widened in recent years because fewer people are involved in farming.
Modern farms, especially those in Western Canada, manage more land than ever and producers must adapt to changing market conditions and rising production costs to stay in business.
New technologies, improved agronomic practices, enhanced seed genetics and advances in mechanization and precision agriculture have allowed Saskatchewan’s growers to produce more food without compromising food safety or the environment.
“We take pride in the fact that we grow high quality, safe food and we do it through using different technologies,” Monchuk said.
“We use herbicides on our crops, and fungicides and insecticides. We do use synthetic fertilizers to make sure we can grow a crop but we also use new technologies such as direct seeding and GPS and variable rate technologies. We use all these different things to make sure we’re preserving the environment and the soil as well.”