School teacher dedicates her skills and passion to ag education work.
Being part of the seventh generation and raised on a mixed livestock farm just outside of Guelph, Ont., you could say that Becky Parker has agriculture in her blood. Her passion for ag is what fueled Becky’s pursuit of a master’s degree of education.
Becky was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship in 2015, and she focused her research on agricultural education. Being an agvocate just feels like a natural fit for someone who has spent so much time researching the collaboration between industry groups and youth development organizations like 4-H and the formal school system.
Now Becky works as a Project and Partnership Strategist for AgScape (formerly Ontario Agri-Food Education). She and her husband live in the Okanagan region of B.C.
What does being an agvocate mean to you?
“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That’s a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that has inspired me for years. Being an agvocate means we care about being a truthful and passionate voice for agriculture. We certainly need to agvocate with facts and help dispel myths. It’s that personal and passionate voice that’s the common thread among agvocates.
What led you to become an agvocate?
I grew up as the seventh generation on my family farm, but I pursued a career in education instead of one in agriculture. When I was teaching in classrooms I was astounded by the lack of agriculture and food knowledge that the students had.
I truly felt that most students had very little connection to agriculture, and no gratitude for the agri-food products in their lives.
When I taught about agriculture and food, I was energized by the enthusiasm and excitement of the students. It was their light-bulb moments about ag topics that sparked my desire to focus on agriculture education and agvocating.
The general public needs to have a basic knowledge and appreciation of the agri-food sector in Canada.
How do you share your story of agriculture?
I share the story in three ways. First through my job; working for AgScape (oafe.org) I have many opportunities to share my story of agriculture. I am constantly working on programs and resources that increase understanding, encourage critical thinking, and stimulate dialogue about agriculture and food topics.
The second way is through social media. I love telling my story through social media, particularly Twitter. It can be with pictures of lambs at the farm, plants in my garden, or food on my plate. Sometimes it’s sharing a simple fact or addressing a food or ag myth I’ve heard. I feel that Twitter is one of the best vehicles for this because it keeps things short and accessible. I also share my thoughts on my Lessons of the Land blog.
The final way I share the story of agriculture is through speaking engagements. Since being awarded a Nuffield Scholarship, I’ve had the privilege of speaking to several groups about my travel and research on agriculture career education. I love sharing my story and my perspective on how the ag sector can better engage with youth and the general public.
What’s worked well?
In June, I wrote a blog about tackling the stereotypes of farming. I challenged people to post a picture of themselves on social media, stating their job and using the hashtag #IWorkInAg. I wanted to change the image of ag careers and show the diversity of people who work in the industry. It was easy, so lots of people took me up on my challenge, and the hashtag continues to be used.
How can we promote careers in agriculture to youth?
My Nuffield Scholarship experiences have focused on bringing more people – particularly the up-and-coming Gen Z – into agriculture careers. The agriculture sector has to step up to get Gen Z interested in agriculture careers. Here are three we can do:
1) Offer experiences
Open your farms, offices and businesses to young people. They need the opportunity to try out careers to see if it is for them. This can be as simple as hosting a 4-H meeting, or having a student job-shadow you for a day. Or maybe you have a longer time commitment and can have a co-op student or intern. Contact your local high school and let them know that you are excited to welcome students into your business.
2) Be a Mentor
Look for opportunities to be a mentor to young people. That might be as a 4-H leader or an employer of an intern. It is important for young people to have solid mentors who can provide advice and a positive influence around career choices.
3) Share why you love your job
Almost everyone I have met in agriculture loves their job. We need to speak positively about the amazing aspects of the industry and share that with young people. What inspires you about your job and this industry? Use that to inspire others.
What advice would you give to other agvocates?
1) Never miss an opportunity to speak up for agriculture.
We are living in a world with almost unlimited access to information and lots of that information is inaccurate. How many times have you overheard someone make an inaccurate statement about food or agriculture? Did you say something? If not, how many other people will hear that incorrect information? Speak up.
2) Think of agvocating like a job
Carry around a business card and invite people to connect with you to discuss food and agriculture.
3) Stay positive
Ag More Than Ever says that to agvocate is “to actively create positive perceptions of agriculture.” Staying positive and talking about why you love agriculture and how much you care for your land and animals is a lot more fun than rebutting arguments about GMOs or hormones. We work in the greatest, most important industry. Let’s show we’re proud and optimistic about the future.
Becky made a huge a commitment to agricultural education when she stepped away from teaching to dedicate herself to sharing and amplifying the story of agriculture in Canada. On her blog, Becky states an impressive goal of building awareness of national and global agricultural issues.
Her Nuffield Scholarship goals are no less ambitious – ensuring that the agriculture sector is well staffed with employees who want to make a difference and change the world. With the work she does both personally and professionally, she is doing just that.