Throughout the month of January I have been lecturing at the University of Guelph; teaching a portion of a 1st year class that gives an overview of the agri-food system and attempts to highlight some trends for the future. I have found the teaching experience very rewarding (I hope the students can say the same thing about their learning experience), I’m not that removed from my undergrad days but the ag industry has certainly changed since I sat in that class in 2004.
One thing about the teaching gig is that it has certainly cut into my blog writing time, it seemed that no matter how I planned, each Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday night I was at my desk in a mad rush trying to get prepared for the next day. Being that night time is my writing time (red wine tastes better after the sun goes down) the blog has taken a one month hiatus. Well, now the blog holiday is coming to an end; and I must admit I’m pretty excited to get back to writing. There are going to be some major changes coming to this blog; (hint, check back tomorrow for an exciting announcement) but for today I’m going to share some thoughts about my experience as a lecturer at the Ontario Agricultural College.
The majority of my time was spent giving an overview of the different components within the agri-food industry but really those 3 weeks of lecturing can be summed up into one sentence. The consumer is king, if they want it then we better figure out how to grow it for them. I truly believe that the days of “if we grow it, they will eat it” are over. We live in an age of consumerism and food trends are no different the fashion trends, (Lady Gaga tried to combine the two and what an uproar that caused). Things will come in and go out of style depending on the whim of influential people and we as producers better get used to it. Every other component of the chain, food retailers, food processors, farmers, etc. has to listen to the guy at the top. If we as farmers fail to listen to what consumers want then we will be replaced by farmers who will. Now just because the consumer is driving the bus doesn’t mean that our whole world will be turned on it’s head tomorrow; the vast majority of consumers are still demanding food as cheap as possible and probably will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. That being said, both globalization and local food will drastically alter the landscape as new products are demanded. Already things are changing; I have a student from a horticulture background who said that Bok Choy has become a major crop for their farm and lots of my urban students put up their hands when asked how many participated in some sort of urban gardening project.
The most exciting lectures for me have been the last two days…we have been having in class discussions about trends in local food and the global food trade. I asked the class 5 yes/no questions:
- Consumers care where their food comes from
- Consumers will pay a premium for local food
- The local food movement means farmers will get paid more for their products
- Canadian farmers will benefit from increasing global food trade
- Increasing global food trade will have more positive effects for farmers then in local food movement
I was a little worried that the discussions would be dominated by a few students but was pleasantly surprised when lots of people engaged, not to mention had incredibly diverse opinions. Students made excellent points on each side for each question. Some talked about the ability for local food to make small farming ventures sustainable while others supported the viewpoint that people want food cheap and they don’t care where it comes from. On the subject of global trade, some disagreed entirely with the notion that trade will be increasing in the future as rising oil prices will put a damper on global trade while other students felt that global food trade is important because the CDN market is just too darn small.
To me, these discussions represented the best part of university learning; the bringing together of people from different places and backgrounds to learn together through discussion and interaction. The world would be an awfully dull place if we all thought the same way and learning to engage and debate in a respectful manner is an important skill that will be used long after Calculus 1000 or Intro to Chemistry is forgotten.
Remember…Tune in tomorrow for an exciting announcement