Even for some of the farm kids, it was their first time at Ag Days.
Canada’s largest indoor trade show bolstered its attendance by 415 Grade 7/8 students this year with Agriculture in the Classroom’s Manitoba Ag Days Adventure.
Sue Clayton, executive director of AITC Manitoba, called the Ag Days tie-in one of its “flagship programs,” normally drawing 400-500 youth.
Schools arrived over the three-day show Jan. 16-18, largely from western Manitoba. Participants once again split their time between the Keystone Centre, the host of the show, and the Brandon Manitoba Agriculture office.
“We do what we call the world game,” Clayton said. “The students are divided into different country groups, so they represent a different region of the world and they’re given a portion of food that would be representative of a meal in that country. That really opens their eyes to how fortunate we are in North America.”
Morning sessions tackled global agriculture and trade, topics that even farm-raised students may have only a vague knowledge of.
“Lots of things surprise them,” curriculum specialist Karen Hill said. “We’ll ask them if they think the number of hungry people in the world is increasing, and most people believe that’s the case. It’s actually false.”
In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that undernourished people dropped 167 million in the decade before and 216 million since 1990-92, although about 795 million people were still struggling worldwide.
Asia’s share of world population (Asia-Pacific houses about 60 per cent of the world, according to the United Nations) is usually another point of interest, Hill said.
Students were asked to imitate trade flows. Organizers introduced Canadian agricultural products and their markets. Some of those products, like grain, came as no surprise, but were offset by less known products, such as frozen cattle genetics, ostensibly on their way to Australia.
Students ended the day in the Keystone Centre. Groups were asked to navigate the Ag Days crowds to find 48 booths out of the over 800 set up.
Clayton says the scavenger hunt was meant to explore different aspects of agriculture within the province, having already explored national and global agriculture in the morning.
“The goal is for them to think global, but act local,” she said.
“One in eight jobs in Canada are directly related to agriculture,” she added, a number cited by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. “I believe the number is even higher in Manitoba. So the point is to have these kids start thinking about the different careers that are involved in agriculture. They’re more and more removed from the farm and so they’re not thinking that way.”
Carman Collegiate teacher Marilyn Thompson said she brings students through the program each year.
“I think it brings to their attention, just globally, the situation with agriculture and then when we go to the Keystone Centre, just the number of opportunities there are in agriculture,” she said.
Carman Collegiate draws on rural youth and her students are already familiar with some of the information presented, she said, but maintained that some lessons are totally novel.
Quinn McLaren is one of those rural students. Her father is a grain farmer, she said, but she had little awareness of the trade facts her fellow students heard during the day. McLaren said she was surprised by the breadth of agricultural trade and exports in Canada.
Likewise, it was her first trip to Ag Days.
“I’m just looking forward to see what other booths there are and to find out some more facts,” she said.
Manitoba Ag Days has historically funded AITC’s program through its 50/50 proceeds. AITC received $8,000 from the 2018 show.
Students were paired with future members of the ag industry. Ninety-nine Assiniboine Community College agribusiness students spent a morning as mentors over the three days.
“I think it’s good to get kids involved with agriculture,” Brodie Hunter, second-year agribusiness student, said. “There’s a lot of misnomers out there in the ag industry, so it’s nice to get them influenced at a young age about what’s going on in ag and how Canada is on a global scale, I guess, on how ag affects different parts of the world.”
Hunter also pointed to the world game when listing his morning highlights.
“I kind of like just passing on what I know to the kids with what I know about ag, what I’ve learned. Some stuff I didn’t know, just percentage-wise on where stuff goes or population or land use,” he said. “There are always a few facts that you take out of it and hope the kids do too.”