How can we deepen the roots of agriculture education?

Lots of kids from Wawota School visiting HGV, standing on equipment

As the kids head back to class, our leadership team at Hebert Grain Ventures is revisiting one of our priority areas for 2023 – education.

We’ve been supporting local high school students through our Deep Roots scholarships at five Saskatchewan high schools and recently launched a university scholarship and research collaboration with Olds College.

But that isn’t enough. After having conversations with Saskatchewan’s Ag in the Classroom, it’s become clear that we need to start even earlier. Exposing young kids to agriculture and ag careers in person and at the elementary school level is where we can have the biggest impact.

Ag in the Classroom Saskatchewan is an organization that brings immersive agriculture experiences and learning to school kids through grades K-12. Its vision is to have a Saskatchewan community that understands, appreciates and respects agriculture. AITC is passionate about inspiring the next generation to know and care about food and the farmers who grow it. 

Last year, AITC’s initiatives reached nearly 73,000 students from 613 schools in 247 communities across Saskatchewan providing 259,000 unique agriculture experiences.  

They firmly believe that to drive change, Saskatchewan students need to experience agriculture first-hand. Students should go on a farm tour, grow a garden, learn how to read a food label, talk to a farmer or sit in a tractor. We had some kids from Wawota come to our farm recently and it was great to watch them and their excitement. 

I’m a fan of AITC-SK because they’re constantly evolving to meet the needs of our teachers while keeping up with the dynamic agriculture industry. Their initiatives include learning kits, books, school garden programs, classroom presentations, farm tours, and teacher professional development. The more experiences students have, the greater the impact.

It’s true that kids who live in urban and even suburban areas are less familiar with farming and removed from agriculture and rural life in general. Quite simply, they forget where their food comes from. So, it’s a great idea to get them out of the city and onto the fields, even if it is just for an afternoon. 

We also know that farming careers seem to be less desirable these days – we’re having a hard time attracting people to the profession.

RBC released Farmers Wanted in April, a study outlining the desperate situation we’ll be in if we don’t start encouraging more kids to take an interest in working on, running or eventually owning a farm.

The study predicts that by 2033, 40% of Canadian farm operators will retire, placing agriculture on the cusp of one of the biggest labor and leadership transitions in the country’s history. Over the same period, there will be a shortfall of 24,000 general farm, nursery and greenhouse workers. While immigration may be part of the solution, I really believe we can do more to foster home-grown talent. 

So, what are we going to do about it? There’s lots of talk, but we need more action. Programs like Ag in the Classroom are key and I don’t think it gets enough attention from primary producers, industry, media and even government.

At a time when we need Canada’s agricultural workforce to grow and evolve, there are so many exciting opportunities for young people. Careers in ag tech, agri-business, data analytics and climate-smart practices will help us grow more food with fewer emissions. 

I always say, we’ve got to make ag “cool” and rebrand it for kids today – they are already so tech savvy, they need to know that those skills will serve them well in an ag career. 

The future of agriculture is sitting in the classroom and it’s up to us to tell them and show them what a great career path it can be. These kids will eventually be the leaders and decision-makers of our industry. Why wouldn’t we share our knowledge and resources with them and their teachers?

We’re looking forward to supporting Ag in the Classroom in a big way and I’m challenging other producers in my network to also offer their support. We need to put our money where our mouth is. 

In the meantime, check out their website and get familiar with their programs. Maybe you can host a farm tour or present at a local school. There are many different ways to donate and volunteer your time. Our kids are worth it. 

I’ll be sharing more specifics on how we’re supporting AITC later this fall.