by Myrna Stark Leader
CALGARY, AB – Two-thirds of Canadians consider farmers as trusted sources about the state of Canada’s food system says a new report by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI), but farmers need to be more accessible if they want their stories to get through.
The average farmer has a circle of friends and a circle of influence, whether they talk to them via social media or at the coffee shop, but CCFI president Crystal Mackay says farmers need to find new ways to share their information – and more of it.
“The first step is to be part of the conversation. Share information. If you’re a grain farmer, don’t just take a picture of your harvest,” she says. “Say, ‘Look at the Doritos I am producing’ or ‘Check out the crackers I am making.’ Talk about the pasta. Turn your acres into plates!”
The next step is reaching new audiences, something that’s difficult because farmers are the low-key stars of the food sector.
“The chance of these folks being profiled in the top Google search on animal welfare is very slim so this is something our sector needs to invest in,” Mackay says. “We need to create platforms for credible sources – farmers, researchers at universities or environmental engineers – to share and reach the volume of Canadians that they need to.”
Mackay says many farm associations are having success putting a face to farming. The fact that major retailers are using a cranberry producer or a rancher in their campaigns reflects this.
“But despite all our efforts, if you divide them up by commodity, by province, by company, they’re too small. We’re not shaping a grand narrative. We’re telling many, many small stories,” Mackay explains. “If we are going to reach 16 million Canadians who are unsure, one person at a time is great and I believe that is where this needs to start, but we need to turn it up to the millions.”
Mackay likens the food system to hockey. There’s the peewee league, the regional and provincial leagues, but there’s no NHL of agriculture – at least not one that’s industry-driven.
CCFI aims to encourage collaboration across the entire Canadian food system to do long-term planning, talk about issues and messages and get everyone around a table talking – the farmer, the retailer, the grocer, food processor, equipment dealer, the food service person, the seed processor and so on.
Co-ordinating the conversation is part of what it sees as its role.
“We all need public trust in the food system, so what can we do bigger and better together?” Mackay asks. “It’s a big challenge, not for the faint of heart or inexpensive. This is a 25-year plan, not a one-time ad campaign.”
Right now, CCFI claims 31 members and an annual budget of $1.5 million, to which government partners have contributed $100,000.
Groups like the BC Agriculture Council are on board. BCAC representatives attended a summit in Calgary on September 19 to hear and discuss the results of CCFI’s latest survey. BCAC has also welcomed Sharon Eistetter in September on a one-year contract to manage public trust initiatives. She’s focusing on creating a short-term and a longer-term plan to help get the 28 commodity groups BCAC represents to better share and communicate with the public.
“My role is to bring a group of industry leaders together to see how we can share best practices,” Eistetter explains from her home office. “Farmers are doing the right thing but we need to demystify information for consumers. It’s a massive undertaking. The end goal is to improve consumer confidence in the food system in BC, in the areas of environmental care, animal care, farm worker care, food safety and quality.”
A national public trust steering committee headed by Myrna Grahn is working to bring together industry stakeholders like grocery stores, restaurants and farmers. Grahn is working with the value-chain round tables, groups that are amplifiers of agriculture and food promotion, CCFI and representatives of the provincial farm organizations.
“We want producers across the country to have more consistent messages to share with the public and we want to avoid siloed work,” Grahn explains from Winnipeg. “We know that actions must be taken to build and regain public trust and we know that we need to do this in a more collaborative way.”
Glen Lucas, general manager of the 520-member BC Fruit Growers Association, says the issue of public trust is on the radar.
“There’s a lot of work to do, but we are seeing more interest in public trust,” he says.
But if CCFI and others create the forums, it’s up to all those involved in the food system to lead.
“When we look at who the public holds accountable for food safety, it is the whole food supply chain. And to be meaningful on public trust, it includes doing the right thing and telling people about it. It’s not just an ad campaign,” Mackey says. “If it is viewed as a government program by the industry and they don’t own it, it won’t be successful.”
Vol. 103 Issue 11
STORIES IN THIS EDITION
What on earth?
Opposition slams ALC bill
Sidebar: Protection & pushback
Editorial: Truth in labelling
Back Forty: So you don’t believe in climate change
Viewpoint: Don’t blame the cows for global warming
Ag council’s lobbying efforts produce results
Learning a new skill
Foundation’s nest egg for funding projects increases
Province will hold the line on piece rates
New CEO aims to kindle team spirit at co-op
FIRB decision prompts rethink of pricing scheme
Beekeepers see potential in technology transfer
AgSafe markes quarter century
Raspberries hit hard by harsh February
Blueberry growers anxious for new varieties
Biological controls for pests in demand
Sidebar: Pesticides in play
Growers urged to focus on fresh
Westgen celebrates 75 years of excellence
Top seller was no-show at Holstein sale
Spring show attracts exhibitors from Quebec
Cheesemakers unite to grow niche market
Range use permits under greater scrutiny
Sidebar: Range use plans go digital
Market Musings: Top bulls sell for top dollar at spring sales
Grapegrowers share sustainability objectives
Grape specialist honoured for dedication
Hazelnut production expands across BC
Sidebar: Pest pressures
Supporters take to AITC’s Sips & Sprouts
Research: Cultured meat fails to impress researchers
UAVs undergo testing for pesticide delivery
Sustainability goes beyond saving farmland
Father and daughter roll with the last of the steel wheels
Woodshed: Susan Henderson is warming to country life
Wannabe: Farming is more than just a job
Surplus, cull fruit finds new purpose as tasty snacks
Jude’s Kitchen: Special food for special moms