A KEY FOR ALL DOORS
LIFE DOESN’T END AT THE FARMGATE: IT BEGINS
BY MARY BUHR
I want more bright young people in agricultural education programs. Not because more bums in seats brings in more tuition money, and not because high numbers makes a university’s statistics look better. I care about getting more students because our graduates all get jobs and because we get calls every week from employers wondering how they can encourage our students to come work for their operation. I care because I believe my country really needs people who understand the breadth and depth of agriculture, who have the training to manage soil nutrients and who think their way through problems. We need people who know how to evaluate corporate claims and public reports trumpeted in media sources that do not differentiate pseudo-expert opinions from informed logical interpretation. I care because the world my own children are going to inhabit will have so many greater challenges than today’s world does—more people, an unpredictable climate and an environment desperately in need of thoughtful, informed stewardship.
My definition of agriculture includes the living soil, the good air and the water running over, in and through it all. Agriculture includes plants from single-celled organisms to complex forests, as well as animals that we manage and those that live independent of us but are affected by our decisions and need us to steward the world we share. My agriculture includes the methods used to grow, harvest, process and store food, fibre and fabricated goods efficiently and sustainably. My agriculture includes the public and economic policies and trends that promote sustainable, effective distribution of goods, minimization of waste, and safe, considerate disposal of those small bits we cannot reuse.
I can unblushingly say that I believe agriculture can save the world. Agriculture can protect and improve the environment, feed the growing population, and improve and sustain a healthy, ecologically sound environment. But I am not sure agriculture will be allowed to do that. We need an informed public to demand that we actually do the work, and demand we bust our butts to discover the ways to make this succeed. We need an informed public choosing to work in the various aspects of agriculture to do the daily chores well, and to make the discoveries and put that knowledge in the hands of those doing the work. And we need an informed public to insist that our policy makers support the education and the work to make it happen in time.
And that is why I say that we need more bright young people studying agriculture. Although enrolment in agriculture programs across the country is growing, there are still more good corporate and on-farm jobs than there are graduates, whether they have diplomas, undergraduate or graduate degrees. For enrolment to meet this demand, we need to replace the current public image of an ag grad—as a dowdy guy with a piece of grass in his mouth, wearing overalls and holding a pitchfork—with the reality of ag grads as independent entrepreneurs with multimillion-dollar operations using the latest GPS technology and “big data” analytical systems. Today’s ag grads are also bankers, pet food nutritionists, soil chemists, remediators of abandoned gas stations and oilfields, developers of healthy foods and wines, international trade representatives and smartphone app designers. We need our young male and female ag grads to be admired and respected by society, and listened to by their peers and our politicians.
We can all help this happen. We need to talk proudly about the breadth and depth of products of agriculture, and how very much our neighbourhoods, our province, our country and our world need these skilled and competent professionals. We need to publicly push our elected officials to support our ability to protect and manage our environment, and to provide higher education. We need to challenge the myths and misrepresentations heard on social media, in restaurants and on talk shows so that the public has the informed perspective to demand effective policies and practices—ensuring we leave this world a place where our children’s children can thrive.
I want more bright young people in agriculture education programs, so they will be the informed citizens keeping our country and our world flourishing and healthy. Will you help?