I've spent this weekend with my family and have had a realization: my blood is dirty. I don't mean that my relatives are bad people. Quite the opposite. I've always known they were wonderful, genuine, salt of the earth people. My blood is dirty because I'm sure if you looked at it under a microscope you would see particles of soil.
Both sides of my family are filled with farmers. Generations of people who have worked the land to feed and grow their families and communities. My family tree consists of collective centuries of hard work to nurture life from the land. People who have made their living growing crops and raising livestock. That is why I am certain that their has to be dirt in my blood. It could also be the reason I feel compelled to work in the agri-food sector.
One of the reasons that brought me together with my family this weekend was to honour and celebrate the life of a my great uncle Howard. He was a farmer, as were the generations before him and those which have come after. Another example of the deep roots which run into the ground and soak that soil into the blood.
Listening to the touching stories at Howard's celebration of life it was clear of the connection to the land. Stories had vivid descriptions of barnyards, fields and streams. Moments in his life that had been shared on the farm.
But the focus of the story was, of course, the people who were there to share the moments. The lessons of responsibility which were passed down. The strong bonds of trust formed between people working together. The pride and celebration of accomplishments.
When I had the chance to speak to Howard's granddaughter Taylor we started chatting about 4-H. We spoke about her heifer and her plans for upcoming fairs. We also talked about the sweet corn stand that she runs with her brothers in the summer.
She is a prime example of a young woman who hasn't even graduated elementary school, yet has the knowledge and practical skills to help her succeed in life. I know for a fact that much of that is due to her background of farming and the strong role models (like her grandfather) she has in her life. I was incredibly happy when she shared that she isn't sure what she wants to be yet, but she knows it will have something to do with agriculture.
Reflecting on this I can't help but think of the applications to my research topic. It made me think of a conversation I had with a man in New Zealand on my research travels. We were talking about the wonderful impact which the young farmers clubs have on the members. He shared with me that he believes that it's the positive role models who create an opportunity for success among the young people. He observed that when youth are surrounded by successful people it becomes their "normal" or their "standard".
Clearly if I am interested in getting more young people interested in careers in agriculture it is not going to happen through generations of farmers and a sense of "dirty blood". With only 2% of the Canadian population living on farm, I know that women like Taylor and I are few and far between in our experiences and history.
But it can happen by focusing on building soft skills like communication, responsibility and initiative through youth organizations like 4-H or strong role models like Howard.
In that way even if youth don't have dirt in their blood, they might not be afraid to get it under their fingernails.
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.