Those of you who know me are probably aware of the fact that I am an "AgVocate". No matter where I go, I am always eager to have a conversation with someone about agriculture and food topics. But I must admit, I was caught a bit off guard when I found myself busting myths about agriculture in the local bowling alley.
A group of friends had decided to get together for some mid-week fun. We are all 30 somethings, well educated, and, I would argue, well adjusted (despite what you might think about Millennials). This particular group of friends are the ones I refer to as the "Wine group". You see, when you are married to someone who works as a winemaker, you tend to hang out with people who work in the industry. Nonetheless, on this particular occasion we found ourselves with buckets of beer on the table instead of the usual bottles of wine.
Since we were in a bowling alley, I made a crack about how we should be drinking White Russians. For those of you who miss the reference, go watch The Big Lebowski, RIGHT NOW. Ok, no wait, finish reading this post first :).
You see, in The Big Lebowski the main character is a huge fan of White Russians. If you have never had a White Russian before, it is a mixture of vodka, coffee liqueur and cream/milk served over ice. I joked that we would probably have to bring our own milk, since I doubted they have it behind the bar at the Rollin' Stones in Penticton.
At that point, my one friend piped up and asked "Do you just buy regular milk at the grocery store?" The question caught me a bit off guard, but I answered, "Of course. Regular 2%".
She proceeded to tell me how earlier that day she had been in conversation with her colleagues at work. One had mentioned how she only buys organic milk because she doesn't want her kids "pumped full of growth hormone."
I have certainly heard this statement before, but it never ceases to amaze me how some people continue to have these misinterpretations of the realities of our food and farming systems in Canada. In order to set the record straight, I assured my friend that no milk produced in Canada contains growth hormones, and that the only animals that may receive synthetic hormones are beef cattle.
By this time there were a few other friends from our group listening in, so I took the opportunity to continue (once a teacher, always a teacher). I shared that when it comes to antibiotics, farmers will choose to treat their animals appropriately in order to address their illness, just like we do with humans. But, I quickly added that treated dairy cows have their milk separated from the rest of the milk, so it doesn't enter the tank. Everyone was surprised to learn that the milk is tested at the farm, and that if it contains traces of things like antibiotics, the farmer has to pay a fine and the milk is dumped.
The conversation stopped there since I had to go bowl my next frame. However the next morning I sent my friend some additional information so that she can share with her colleagues. You may find them interesting and informative too.
My friend did share this information with her colleagues. Apparently they were surprised by the information, and wondered why these facts are not more widely known.
I wonder the same thing. Canada has one of the safest food systems in the world. When I go to the grocery store, I feel confident knowing that whether I buy conventional or organic the food is strictly tested and is safe to consume. I also know that if I happen to buy something organic, it is going to have the same nutritional value as the conventional alternative. It is not "healthier" because it is organic.
I believe in choice. I believe that many Canadians are privileged to have the financial means to make whatever choice they want to in the grocery store. If you are buying organic milk because it supports your values, that's great. But if you are buying organic milk because you think it is healthier, or safer, please watch the video above. I believe in choice, but I believe it should be an informed choice.
By the way, in case you are wondering, beer does not improve my bowling game. Maybe next time I will stick with a glass of milk - just regular old 2%, thank you very much.
It's crazy how busy we can get. I was on the phone with my parents the other night and my mom asked me when I was going to write another blog. A wave of embarrassment washed over me as I realized it had been over 6 months since I posted something on this site. Yikes!
However I haven't been sitting idle. The fall of 2016 was a busy one for me as I wrapped up my Nuffield Scholarship. That included writing and editing my final report which can be found here.
As well, I had the incredible opportunity to share my story with a broader audience through the support of Country Guide. I've always enjoyed reading the high caliber articles in this publication and am proud to say that I am now a contributor. If you have a chance, head on over to the Country Guide website and read the article. Better yet - get yourself a subscription so you can always have access to stimulating information which will improve your business!
Thanks to those of you who take the time to read about promoting careers in agriculture! And thanks for the gentle reminder to post a blog, mom. :)
Yesterday I drove from Eden Mills, Ontario to West Lafayette, Indiana. Most of the drive was uneventful. I observed fields and farms on either end of the trip, with a lovely stretch of Detroit pavement in between.
But what piqued my interest the most on the trip was what happened at the border crossing on the Ambassador Bridge.
As I pulled up to the border guard, I handed over my passport. After a few seconds I got the standard question: "Where are you headed, Ms. Parker?" My response was the honest (and rehearsed) one - I admit border crossings still get me a little nervous.
I told the gentleman that my destination was the State Convention of the Indiana Future Farmers of America. He looked at me with a puzzled look and asked "Are you a farmer?"
My reply was "Well, no. I grew up on a farm, but I'm not a farmer. I work in agriculture education." He looked at me and very coolly said, "I didn't think so. You don't really look like a farmer." Then he handed me back my passport and sent me on my way. I said my obligatory Canadian "Thank you" and headed to the toll booth.
While this didn't really upset me, it did get me thinking. Don't I look like a farmer? And why not? I had, after all, been helping with chores on my family farm that weekend.... a supply farmer, if you will....
Agriculture has quite a few stereotypes. When you ask someone to name a career in agriculture, they often say farmer. And if you ask them to describe a farmer, you get something like Old MacDonald. It's no wonder - just look at the results of a Google image search for farmer: all male; all white. I guess the border guard was right... I don't look like a farmer, according to the internet.
These images present a challenge when it comes to addressing the labour shortage in agriculture. How can we recruit young people to a sector when all they think about is one or two stereotypes? Jobs only in primary production. Jobs held primarily by white males. It certainly excludes a good chunk of the population.
As I've said before, the first step needs to be awareness. We need to expose youth to information about agriculture and ag careers. And we need to expose them to different images of people in ag careers. So please - if you work in the agri-food sector, let's change the stereotypes. I challenge you to post a picture of yourself on social media. State your job and use the hashtag #IWorkInAg - Let's change the image of #AgCareers. I'd love to prove that border guard wrong....
I was raised as the seventh generation on a mixed livestock farm near Guelph, Ontario. Currently I am living in the beautiful Okanagan region of BC, where my husband works for Blue Mountain Winery. I maintain my close ties to Ontario agriculture through my job with AgScape (Ontario Agri-Food Education Inc.) and hope to bring a national, and global perspective to agricultural issues.