Program educates on food loss and waste

For the first time in two years, Canadian Agriculture and Literacy Month is returning to classrooms across the country, including in Westman, to teach children about the importance of agriculture.

“After two years of virtual programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no sweeter feeling than returning to in-person classroom visits this year,” said Katharine Cherewyk, executive director of Agriculture in the Classroom Manitoba (AITC-M).

A total of 6,997 students in Manitoba will take part in the program, which Cherewyk said is critical for the future generation of consumers and their connection to who produces their food.

Agriculture literacy also empowers students to think critically about food production and agriculture methods, so that when they graduate, they can feel equipped to seek out a career in the agriculture industry.

“We want them to understand that this is a complex industry that needs some critical thinkers,” Cherewyk said.

The event’s return to classrooms is a valuable opportunity for Manitoba students to see where their food comes from and hear from those who produce it, provincial Agriculture Minister Derek Johnson stated in a press release sent out by AITC-M.

“Thanks to Agriculture in the Classroom Manitoba, and the many volunteers in the agriculture industry, students will be provided a visit and an activity that can leave a lasting impression and inspire them to think about agriculture and its importance to our province,” he said.

Bringing agriculture into classrooms in a way that captures the attention of students involves high-quality resources that are teacher-friendly.

Cherewyk said these “Monday morning-ready” resources are available for teaches to learn on professional development days so that they can bring them back to their students with confidence in what they’ve learned.

The theme of this year’s event is Food Loss and Waste. Students will get the chance to explore each step of the food supply chain, from farm to plate, through an interactive activity based on how the agriculture industry in Manitoba works to limit food loss. Students will also be taught how individuals and families can reduce food waste.

“We really focus on developing our resources, so that … they actually give teachers everything they need to use in their classrooms with their students in a hands-on, fun, engaging way,” she said.

In early-year classrooms, this can often look like learning about soil and plants. To facilitate this, participating classrooms are each getting a “Manitoba kit” this year, full of seed that are commonly grown in the province.

The kit allows students to look at and learn to identify the seeds and then learn how the seeds grow and what they look like, in the field.

Participating classrooms also receive a book about agriculture to add to their classroom library.

“It’s really about giving teachers what they need so that they can feel comfortable talking about agriculture for the rest of the year,” Cherewyk said. “It’s not one and done.”

Complex issues such as technology, innovation, global agriculture, food security and climate change are topics taught in the classrooms of older students as part of the Canadian Agriculture Literacy Month, which will last throughout March.

“We’re trying to bring a lot of experiential learning into the classroom so that students really feel connected to food and food production,” Cherewyk said.

In previous years, AITC-M was run in kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms. This year, the program will run across grades 2 to 4, offered in both French and English.

“The program was growing so quickly, and our capacity is limited due to funding and to the size of our staff,” Cherewyk said. This year, 150 industry volunteers will visit 332 French and English classrooms across the province, bringing their own agricultural experiences and stories, a hands-on activity and an agriculture-themed book to the students.

It’s important that children get the chance to hear not just from producers but from people involved in the many avenues of the agriculture industry, Cherewyk said, so that they can confidently consider joining it one day.

“We really want to make sure that agriculture is not just seen as production,” she said.

The program, which is in its 12th year, couldn’t run without volunteers, Cherewyk said, adding that people in the industry need to understand how important it is to tell their stories.

“We can’t run this program without volunteers in this way,” she said. “We can’t really move into the future without that.”

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun