Canola Eat Well director Ellen Pruden is being recognized for her work bridging the gap between dietitians and agriculture.
“Ellen has used her personal ties to Canadian agriculture to create unique and innovative opportunities for dietitians to learn about the complex world of farming and food production and has given us confidence to share that information as credible experts,” said the Dietitians of Canada on its website.
The Dietitians of Canada awarded Pruden the 2020 Honorary Patron Award, which is given to someone who is not a dietitian but has advanced the dietetics profession through their work, the site says.
Pruden, who has worked for the Manitoba Canola Growers for 20 years, heads Canola Eat Well, a partnership between Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba canola groups to promote canola oil use to consumers. She has appeared on the cooking show “Great Tastes of Manitoba,” and hosts events to expose dietitians and others in the food industry to agriculture.
For Pruden, the award was a tremendous validation for years of work.
“Like wowzers!” she said in an interview with the Co-operator. “I just love doing it. Like, I’m really blessed to have the opportunity to be working with farmers and to continue to be part of their voice.”
Teacher to ag advocate
Pruden grew up on a farm near Lockport and said she has fond memories of riding in the combine and tractor with her dad as a youngster. At the time, agriculture or food studies didn’t seem like an option, so Pruden got her degree in education.
When she got out of school, Pruden couldn’t find a teaching job. She saw a posting with Manitoba Canola Growers to teach kids about agriculture. She got the job, and has been with the organization ever since.
Pruden was involved in developing the Canola Learning Centre on Kelburn Farm, a research farm south of Winnipeg owned by Richardson International. The centre teaches urban students about agriculture. She also worked with Agriculture in the Classroom. She’d go on to hold various positions before assuming her current role.
Her work with Canola Eat Well includes appearing on the cooking show “Great Tastes of Manitoba,” where Pruden uses her love of cooking to showcase canola products. When she spoke to the Co-operator she was in the midst of testing and developing recipes — the latest of which her family had given the thumbs down.
She’s also worked to educate dietitians, food writers and other food industry folk about farming. These days, consumers want to know how their food was raised and they ask their dietitians about this, said Pruden, but dietitians typically aren’t experts on farming.
“They don’t take any classes on agriculture and they’re being asked questions about agriculture,” Pruden said.
“I really view my job as to narrow that gap and provide opportunities for engagement with our farming community,” said Pruden. “Then have our farming community engage with our eaters… so that they understand what kind of questions and concerns, that you know, families, moms are asking.”
For the last eight years, Pruden has helped host Canola Connect Harvest Camp. This invites food industry professionals and dietitians to board a bus in Winnipeg and drive across the province.
‘Campers’ begin by listening to local scientists talk about soil, and soil health. They then travel to farms and meet beekeepers and bison ranchers. They eat lunch in a machine shed, ride in a combine and visit a grain elevator.
They also meet farmers face to face.
“It’s really about the farmers and their stories,” said Pruden. “These are just hard-working, wonderful humans who are growing our food… it’s so impactful.
“I’m just always blown away about how our farmers support the program by stopping in harvest to open up their farms and share their stories,” she added. “It’s a truly life-changing experience for our campers.”
She has also hosted a spring camp in Winnipeg where campers bred canola plants or, as campers exclaimed, performed “plant sex.”
The idea was to give dietitians and other food folk an experience while breaking down complex information for them to absorb.
They want to be right and give good advice, said Pruden. It takes confidence for dietitians and food writers to speak knowledgeably about agriculture, GMOs, pesticides and other topics ‘eaters’ want to understand.