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Manitoba classrooms boost ag literacy

Minnedosa’s Tanner’s Crossing School is one of 235 Manitoba schools participating 
in the first month-long agricultural literacy event

Tracy Kingdon’s Grade 5/6 class at Tanner’s Crossing School in Minnedosa wasn’t using pens and pencils Mar. 10. Instead, they were shaking whipping cream into butter, getting an up-close look at seed varieties and digging up questions for Lise McQuarrie, one of more than 100 Agriculture in the Classroom volunteers invited to Manitoba schools this March as part of the first Canadian Agricultural Literacy Month.

“I was just hoping to tell the kids my farm story,” McQuarrie said. “I’m a farmer as well as working in the agriculture industry as a lender rep for MASC, so I just wanted to basically let the kids know where their food comes from, that it’s safe food and just tell them a little bit about what I do on a daily basis.”

Now part operator of a 2,000-acre grain farm near Minnedosa, McQuarrie’s background also includes livestock, having grown up first with a dairy, and later a purebred cattle operation in Kelwood. She has been presenting with Agriculture in the Classroom for the last three years.

“Even the kids who grew up on the farm, they still need to hear the story,” she said. “Sometimes we forget that just growing up on the farm, parents (still) need to spend time with their kids and just do some explaining and teach them as well, and the kids who haven’t grown up on a farm, it’s nice for them to be able to understand more of the process and then maybe they’ll even be able to go out to other friends’ farms and share the experience there.”

Kingdon said her class has been a frequent Agriculture in the Classroom participant.

“Each year has been different, so that’s been great because it’s a multi-level classroom,” she said.

However, this is the first year that presentations have been part of Canadian Agricultural Literacy Month.

Sue Clayton, executive director for Agriculture in the Classroom Manitoba, said the campaign was expanded this year from the previous Canadian Agricultural Literacy Week due to a growing number of classrooms wanting to participate.

Different age groups

About 800 schools will be visited nationwide through March, reaching about 30,000 students. In Manitoba, volunteers will travel to 235 classrooms, reaching 5,000 students.

“They take in an agriculture-related book that is suitable for that grade level,” Clayton said. “This is aimed at the elementary school group. So the volunteer reads a book to the children and they leave it in the classroom for the teacher and they do a hands-on interactive activity with the kids.”

Canola crushing, seed kits, wheat grinding and bushel-weight moisture testing are among potential activities, along with the butter making brought to Minnedosa.

“It really just depends on the age group of the class and the background of the volunteer,” Clayton said. “And then there’s a PowerPoint presentation that we give the volunteers, but often they just do their own pictures of their farm or whatever industry they’re from and they just talk to the kids about agriculture and what their role in the industry is.”

The month’s theme, “Our Food, Our Story,” focuses on food sourcing. A high school-targeted webinar on food waste was also held Mar. 7.

In Minnedosa, students said they were largely familiar with the material presented, although several expressed a desire to learn more about the scientific aspects of agriculture.

Parker Pinette said both her parents grew up on farms and several of her relatives are producers, although she, herself, lives in town.

“It was pretty fun, especially the butter making,” she said. “The videos and the books were pretty interesting as well. Overall, it was a really cool experience to figure out what agriculture and everything they do helps the environment and stuff.”

Pinette’s classmate, Hayden Loewen, echoed the sentiment, adding that he also lives in town, but helps on his grandfather’s farm.

A mix of both rural and urban school visits have been scheduled, Clayton said.

The campaign has also taken to social media with a Twitter contest. Participants are asked to tag posts with #myfoodstory and #CALM17. Winners will earn $250 to be donated to the charity or school of their choice.

“They kind of tell their food story about why they’re involved in the industry… what they love about agriculture or even what their favourite meal is,” Clayton said.

Canadian Agricultural Literacy Month was sponsored by Farm Credit Canada.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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