For Chris Renwick, farming isn’t just his career. It’s part of his family’s legacy. And continuing that legacy is a profound source of pride for this seventh-generation farmer.
Chris and his family operate Renwick Ridgeview Acres, a 750-acre grain and oilseed farm in Wheatley, Ont., which will celebrate its 200th anniversary next year.
“There aren’t too many century farms left in this area,” says Chris, who started out farming with his father and grandfather. Chris takes pride in growing his own family legacy. “It’s a pretty big accomplishment to say you’ve had something in your family for 200 years. And to keep things going on the same farm is definitely important.”
With agriculture such an integral part of the family’s history, it’s no surprise farming is a family affair for the Renwicks. Chris and his wife Rachel have three children who have already taken a keen interest in the family operation. They’re eager to help out wherever possible, particularly at the farm’s roadside stand.
“To be able to see them grow up on the farm now and develop an interest [in agriculture] is really fascinating,” Chris says.
The children were also a source of inspiration for the start of Chris’s journey as an agvocate. After a few speaking engagements at his kids’ school, Chris quickly realized that speaking up for agriculture was something he thoroughly enjoyed. Wanting to do more, he became involved with Agriculture in the Classroom and an ‘Adopt a Farmer’ program through the local school board.
Those efforts intensified last year after Chris and his family participated in Real Farm Lives, a documentary web series produced by CropLife Canada giving viewers a glimpse into the daily lives of farm families in Ontario and Saskatchewan.
“When they asked if we would participate, for me it was an easy decision. I jumped on it right away. I just had to ask around the farm and make sure everyone else was as excited as I was,” Chris laughs. “Being involved with the documentary has definitely opened some doors and allowed us to talk to more people. It’s been interesting talking to people and helping them understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
Part of what Chris tries to help people understand is that Canadian farmers are committed to producing nutritious and safe foods for one basic reason: farmers are consumers, too.
“I think that is the take-home message: [farmers] eat the same foods as everyone else. We serve the same foods to our own families. I think people sometimes forget that.”
Building Connections as an Ambassador for Ag
It’s no secret that most Canadians don’t have a direct connection to food production. In fact, less than two per cent of Canadians work on farms. Given there’s a growing disconnect, it’s no wonder questions abound about farming and food. As the Agriculture More Than Ever Ambassador for Ontario, Chris says he looks forward to encouraging open and honest conversations about agriculture to help bridge the gap between consumers and where their food comes from.
“Because of the massive amount of information available, people are asking more questions. And it’s our responsibility to tell people why we’re doing things certain ways so they can better understand,” he explains.
“The more ways we can engage people, the more apt they’ll be to understand and appreciate what we’re doing.”
While there is a need for more people to speak up on behalf of agriculture, Chris adds it’s also important to ensure the industry works collectively towards a common goal of engaging consumers with factual information.
“The ag community has come together more than we were in the past. We’ve realized that we have to push together as a whole community instead of just one person at a time.”
So how can someone who is looking to add their voice to the food conversation begin their own journey? Chris says the best way to start is by selecting a focus topic you’re comfortable talking about.
“Each of us isn’t going to have the answers for everything. If you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to say so and point [the person] in the right direction. The last thing you want to do is tell someone something that is incorrect, and they figure it out. Because then your trust is gone,” Chris says.
“It’s important to remember that people do want to learn more about where their food comes from.”