Farmers head to school for Canadian Agricultural Literacy Week

It’s often said farmers speak their own language, but schoolkids in nine provinces might soon understand it a little better thanks to Canadian Agricultural Literacy Week.

Hundreds of farmers will be going back to school Feb. 26 to March 3 to talk to children and read from selected books telling stories about food and farming as part of a first-ever initiative put on by Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC).

It’s a week to strengthen the relationship between schoolchildren and the people who produce food, said Johanne Ross, executive director of AITC-Manitoba, who is co-ordinating the national program.

AITC develops agriculturally themed teaching resources for schools, but this initiative is different, she said.

“When you think of literacy you automatically think of reading books, but in this day and age literacy can mean so many things. We want it to be beyond the books and about making that personal connection and putting a face behind agriculture.”

In Manitoba, 20 schools and about 40 classrooms of Grades 3, 4 and 5 students were expected to open their doors to Manitoba farmers. Across the entire country as many as 400 classrooms are expected to take part.

“We’ve had a wonderful response from our producers and our ag industry contacts to get in there and tell the agriculture story,” said James Perkins, interim executive director for AITC-Saskatchewan.

With most families now two or more generations removed from the farm, organizers are expecting some lively classroom discussions.

“Someone is bound to raise their hand and ask a question,” said Perkins. “We’re really encouraging farmers to tell their story. They have a story to tell that goes far beyond the books.”

Other provinces will take different approaches. Ontario Agri-Food Education doesn’t have the same kind of volunteer base among farmers so they’ve arranged for newly graduated teachers not yet in teaching jobs to visit classrooms, said Jan Robertson, marketing and communications manager for OAFE. They’ll be bringing books as well, but also a game called Agri-Treking Across Ontario to teach about different types of production throughout the province.

Uptake by schools has exceeded their highest expectations, Ross said.

“We want (students) to get curious about it, and see agriculture as something beyond the farm, and the role they can play in giving back to agriculture as consumers,” she said.

Organizers said they hope the event spurs Canadian writers to create agriculturally themed books for children. Many provinces, including Manitoba, have gone with American titles because they couldn’t find Canadian ones, said Ross, noting many U.S. books focus on types of production not used north of the border.

“It’s just not on writers’ radar screens,” said Ross. “We really need Canadian books about agriculture and we’re hoping maybe this week will start to build on that.”

Farmers will read two specially selected books in Manitoba classrooms. Where Beef Comes From written by Saskatchewan cattle producer Sherri Grant is one of them.

“It’s a wonderful story from start to finish, and it doesn’t run away from the message of why we produce beef either,” said Ross.

The other book is Seed Soil Sun – Earth’s Recipe for Food by American writer Cris Peterson, a book about growing different kinds of crops. Ontario’s titles include Alfalfabet A-Z, The Wonderful Words From Agriculture by B.C. author Carol Watterson and How Did That Get In My Lunch Box? The Story of Food by American writer Chris Butterworth. Sherri Grant’s book is also on their list for Saskatchewan, said Perkins. So is another by Cris Peterson entitled Fantastic Farm Machines. They’re also reading Farm by Elisha Cooper, a U.S. author who writes about corn growing in the American Midwest.

All books read in classrooms will be donated to the schools.

Canadian Agricultural Literacy Week is funded by Farm Credit Canada.

February is designated I Love to Read Month across North America, promoting early childhood interest in reading and highlights the importance of literacy skills.

The province of Manitoba is expected to formally proclaim Feb. 26 to March 3 Agricultural Literacy Week.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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