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.