Camlawrie’s Weblog

A Rant on Agricultural Apathy

Agricultural Apathy: Lack of interest, emotion or concern, or feelings of indifference relating to agriculture and farming

As an ‘urbanite’ enrolled in an agricultural communications class I feel more and more of a responsibility to encourage my urban friends to become more engaged with agriculture.  I get the impression the agricultural apathy runs rampant in the urban world.  I can’t really give a good explanation why this is the case, but I do believe a lack of exposure is a large factor.  The urban demographic needs to have their eyes opened to such an important sector of the Canadian economy.

An urbanite might ask why they should care about agriculture, and my answer to that person would be “If for no other reason than because farmers produce the food on you eat”.  Another good reason might be because upwards of 13 million acres of land in Ontario are farmland.  That’s 13 times the size of the Greater Toronto Region which includes the City of Toronto, Peel Region, Halton Region, York Region and Durham Region.  In otherwords, from Burlington, Ontario eastward to Oshawa, Ontario and as far north as Newmarket, Ontario.  I might also ask this person if they can trace the path their food takes from the farm to their table.  When they can’t, I’ll suggest that that might be another good reason to be more concerned about agriculture.

Last week Michael Whittaker from Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) gave a guest lecture in our class, and I couldn’t help but think to myself ‘this might be a mainstay of the agricultural apathy problem right here’.  But allow me to explain.  He described his role as the Deputy Minister of Communications and Consultations, and went on to describe exactly what that means.  Believe me, Mr. Whittaker is a pretty important and busy man.  Mr. Whittaker even provided us some samples of press releases the might find their way to his desk for a stamp of approval before being sent to the major media outlets.  And in my opinion, that is where the problem lies.  Press releases are boring.  So automated and formulaic, that if any of them did find their way to an important place like the first few pages in a newspaper, that they’d be skimmed over and forgotten about.  I wanted to ask what the main media outlet he dealt with was, but never found the proper oppourtunity.  What about the radio or television?  Press releases don’t really jive with the glitz and flash of TV, and they sure don’t have the proper lingo to translate well to mainstream urban radio.  But maybe it’s not his job to care about how effectively the messages he approves are being conveyed.  I do wonder if that thought crosses his mind from time to time.

I can think of a couple ways to fight agricultural apathy.  My first idea is to keep agricultural learning in the city classroom.  When I was in elementary school, agricultural trips and learning experiences were common.  As I got older, they inexplicably stopped.  That’s a pretty simple way agricultural knowledge could be brought into focus.

Another idea I have, but can’t really claim as my own, is an excessive advertising campaign.  The Toronto Transit Commision (TTC) allows whole train cars (Domination packages) to be bought out for advertising purposes.  Anyone who has been on a subway train at rush hour can attest that exposure to a large number of people is not a problem.  If independent companies can afford to buy out whole subway trains, I’m sure AAFC can scrounge up some change from the couch in the lunch room to help out their cause.

Maybe I’m wrong, but those seem like fairly simple and logical ways to increase urban exposure to agriculture.  Maybe AAFC needs to re-evaluate the modes of communication that are employed to invigorate agricultural communication and give it the two-handed ‘shove-in-the-right-direction’ it needs.  I think stopping acricultural apathy isn’t as big of a problem as I originally thought, whoever is in charge of agricultural marketing just needs to take 10 minutes and brainstorm a couple of new ideas.  Pardon my rant, but I think it has been some what of a catharic experience.

NB: CBS Outdoor is the advertising agency contracted by the TTC to manage advertising on their vehicles