Agriculture to have more prominence if all works out

Nichole Neubauer is co-chair of the Champions of Agriculture and this was from their initial face to face meeting in Calgary earlier this year where they had a lot to discuss. At left is the other co-chair Jill Harvie from Olds and to her left is Magrath-farmer Gary Stanford.

Forgive Nicole Neubauer is she is a bit excited about agriculture. Yes, her family’s multi-commodity farm near Medicine Hat has been quite successful but the chairperson of the Champions of Agriculture… aka the provincial government-sponsored Agriculture Industry Advisory Committee… is working on a project which could students of all ages learning more about the province’s most consistent industry and possibly change the way education is administered. 

Neubauer is working tirelessly with the Farm @ School project which would have a base in Irvine. 

According to the Executive Summary of the plans, this “is an on-playground agriculture demonstration project that will connect rural and urban students to deepen their shared understanding in safe, healthy, sustainable food. Construction commencement will be October / 2020, with the demonstration project to be fully functional by April / 2021. Students will learn about large and small livestock, plant a garden and crop demonstration plots, learn about honeybees, use a vermicomposting system to digest organic school waste and transform into worm castings, to be used as fertilizer. They will learn about synthetic fertilizers, crop protection, growth hormones in cattle as well as vaccination and antibiotic protocols. 

“The key component that sets this program apart, is the develop of a high-level on-line learning platform (i.e. google classroom, social media, video logs) that will be accessed by students in urban communities across Alberta. Covid 19 has demonstrated that virtual teaching is an effective way for students to learn. Prairie Rose School Division will work to develop on-line, agriculture-rich content, that compliments the Alberta Education Curriculum.”

It is major undertaking but Neubauer who is overseeing the project,  is absolutely committed and excited about wanting all Alberta students regardless of where they live or what they know about rural life. The whole idea is to have students from all over the province learn about where food comes from, how it gets to the grocery store, what kind of impact agriculture has on the economy, environment and people’s daily lives in general. 

Neubauer is excited about the possibilities of this educational component to the school curriculum as she feels there are a lot of unknowns and misconceptions out there about farming that need to be directly addressed. Because agriculture is one of the largest industry in Alberta and impacts residents everyone on a daily basis, Neubauer and others like her, more information about agriculture could be taught to them in school.

“It’s a great place to start having a dialogue about what is supporting local agriculture? What does it mean? I mean, I can’t just sell my wheat to someone so they can make bread, there’s so many steps along the way and we need to do a better job illustrating and explaining all the steps from gate to plate and celebrate that,” explains Neubauer.

Using her farm as an example which has had approximately 20,000 students roll through since 2005, but constructing a site in Irvine would be used a base. 

The plans for implementing this include: 

October 2020:

•Construction Commences – 40x60 Hi Qual engineered fabric structure will be erected;

• 5 calf shelters with portable corral systems installed;

• Chain-link security fence will be installed;

• Chicken Coop will be delivered;

Winter 2020/2021:

• Shop students will build raised garden beds;

• Shop students will build signage (school shop has metal laser cutting equipment - a special sign will be made to recognize the Rural Communities Foundation Grant);

• Prairie Rose will develop content, complete credit mapping, design evaluation metrics and partner with urban schools to deliver programming

Spring 2021:

• Mid- April – Livestock is added to the program.

• Irvine School students begin interacting with the Farm @ School program.

• May / 2021 Irvine School students and teachers begin producing material for the on-line learning platform

• The idea is not to have farming or agriculture as a separate course requirement but as an addition to current regular courses. 

What Neubauer is thinking is that this would be intertwined with what Alberta Education’s curriculum is right now. Instead of seeing some old stock film or reading about it in a book, they can see first hand in their own province or near their home what farming is all about. It will meld in so it is not another whole entire course that needs to be developed. The plan is to make make it fit actually what the kids are already learning by bringing the curriculum alive.

Neubauer cites the environment and something like composting as an example as something that is important to many. The Farm @ School program would have experts in the field of agriculture and environment be able to help make sense of composting and then develop strategies and school projects.

“(For example) What can be composted, what composted items can be turned into fertilizer and then we take it one one step further and do methane evaluations what methane is released by wastes that head to the dump and can we mitigate that by compost the waste and turn that into burnt castings and use that as fertilizer,” says Neubauer. “That fits and ties into the science curriculum and we would make it really meaningful because the kids could create a program of a waste recycling program right into their classroom. And they see it hands on, rather than watching it in a video or reading it in a textbook, it would actually be live and interactive.

“The kids would raise some steers they would learn all about the animal’s digestive system works and again have that science curriculum link. Heavy focus on environmental studies climate change sustainability and the kids would learn about the social economic and environmental impacts about agriculture and considerations made within how they start and how they raise livestock and that is a page right out of the grade 10 social curriculum… see consumption in cattle, see the percentages of protein versus energy a cow needs to make in order to make a pound of beef. We could tie into math that way... besides just science, social (studies and of course Canadian history). We could do the introduction of modern agriculture and how much more we can do on an acre of land than we did 20, 50 or 100 years ago. So rather be a separate agriculture course, we would find ways of having the student every day while they are at school where they can spend time in that environment.”

This could also include field trips to a variety of places which serve a purpose in agriculture, everything from a farm, to spending time with those in agribusiness or food processing and even research for both the grain and specialty crop side to livestock. The list is long and there have been some who have already expressed a desire to assist. Neubauer through her own farm work, her ties to marketing groups, chambers of commerce and government ties, Neubauer has built quite a list of contacts. 

In fact, these roles “put her in a position of connection with 39 commissions and producer groups, applied research bodies, academia, and local Chamber-member businesses.”

“We are going to enlist everything from agronomists, veterinarians, grain buyers and fertilizer manufacturers, trade veteran… we are going to bring our industry experts and allow us to ask questions and understand their roles and what their responsibilities are in agriculture and what they do to help filling out of the blanks,” explains Neubauer. “Years ago, Alberta Agriculture did a really in-depth study on of where there are curriculum opportunities K to 12 to blend agriculture in to the teaching and I have that information and then we are going to use the industry experts on to tell us how does it work, how can we supply that information and definitely the key underlining this is science based knowledge. Science is such an incredible difference maker in our world and often times we don’t understand science, and quite often, what we don’t understand, we fear. So what this program is going to be all about is dispelling the myths and explaining the science in such a way that it can be understood by a child in Grade 5 and is allowed to ask the difficult questions and then they can share that information with their peers in urban settings (for example).” 

The project will take money. According to the plans, “Prairie Rose School Division No 8 will serve as banker board for this project. They will administer and be accountable for all funds received and all expenses incurred.  The Coordinator of this project is pursuing funds from the Medicine Hat Community Foundation, The Calgary Community Foundation as well as funds through the Canadian Agriculture Partnership (CAP) grant program – Agriculture Education.” 

More information and developments will come forth in following weeks.

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