I recently read a great post by Tara Mohr called "Ten Rules for Brilliant Women." It was posted by Jen Christie in our Facebook group for the Ag Women's Network.
Now I don't know if I would describe myself as a brilliant woman, but I did think the suggestions on the list were brilliant. They are concrete ways that women (or anyone) can step up and make the most of their careers and their lives.
One of the tips from Mohr really struck me as something that I need to do more often:
Gasp. Start doing things that make you gasp and get the adrenalin flowing. Ask yourself, “What’s the gasp-level action here?”
How many times have we felt one way, but acted in another - simply because it was too risky. Or when have you held your tongue for fear that someone might *actually* gasp?
Well I've decided that I'm going to take some gasp-level action and say what I am really thinking - even if it isn't what some people want to hear.
We all know that we have a huge challenge to get young people interested in careers in agriculture. However in my opinion the biggest challenge is the mindset of the agriculture sector. We love to work in silos (no pun intended). I don't know whether there is a preset notion that commodity groups and organizations can only talk about their own commodity, but it needs to change - at least when it comes to career education.
So get ready to gasp! We need to stop breaking our career messages into commodity messages.
In all honesty, do we think that students are enticed by the idea of working in 'grains' or 'pork' or 'horticulture' or any other of the hundreds of commodities that we produce in Canada? (The same thing applies for organizations representing machinery or crop protection products, etc). As much as you want to answer yes, you know deep down that it's not true.
People who work in agriculture get so pre-occupied and comfortable with our own specific area that we stop seeing the forest for the trees. We are passionate about what we do, and that is great. But that connection to these specific topics (i.e. commodities) is not there for the average student sitting in a high school classroom. To them, there isn't much difference between a cow and a sheep, or a pulse and a grain, or a tractor and a combine - so why would there be a difference in the careers associated with any of them?
The duplication that arises from commodity focused messages isn't helping anyone. There are too many little blips of information that get lost in the chaos - and rarely any measurement of whether an actual impact was made.
So what is the alternative?
In order to cut through the clutter and get messages across to young people, I believe we need a united front. Recently at the Ontario Agri-Food Education AGM I used the analogy of throwing a bunch of pebbles into the water versus throwing one big rock. What makes a bigger splash?
Collaboration and partnerships are the only way to make an impact. A united voice will be able to send a loud, strong and clear message about the opportunities of working in the agri-food sector.
Who can deliver this message? It has to be an organization which has many things:
Does such an organization exist? The lucky answer is YES!
Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) Canada (@AITCCanada) officially launched as a national organization earlier this month - see here for details.
While AITC Canada is new, there are provincial AITC organizations which have been running programs and developing resources for decades. All of the individual organizations are committed to educating about Canadian agriculture and highlighting the career opportunities which exist in the industry. But we can do a better job of breaking down silos too. In fact, my goal is to develop a new careers committee under this national organization which will focus on how we can collaborate with existing resources to do a better (more cohesive) job of engaging young people in agri-food careers.
I would like to challenge all of the agriculture stakeholders who read this to think about how you can break down silos. If your organization is thinking about creating a career education campaign or resource, think about working with AITC.
Apart, there might be a few small splashes of interest. But together we can make the splash that will fill the labour shortage and contribute to a prosperous and sustainable agri-food sector.
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.