Perspectives from Kerry-Leigh Burchill, Director General of the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum.
When asked what sustainable agriculture is, Kerry-Leigh Burchill, Director General of the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, characterizes it as, “a balanced approach to how we, as a country, produce the food, fibres, energy, and bio-products that link to our quality of life. This balanced approach must respect consumer demands in the face of environmental, health, and ethical concerns from local and global communities.”
A central aspect of agriculture is maintaining soil health. “When you consider and respect that the top horizon of soil which we interact with is alive and requires nourishment, water, aeration, symbiotic relationships with micro-organisms, and protection from agents of erosion it is easy to make the link between soil health and human nutrition,” explains Burchill.
Another important aspect to sustainable agriculture is innovation. Canadians have made countless contributions on a global scale through their ingenuity. “Canadian innovators are credited with developing the first combine harvester to use a spinning drum to separate grain from chaff and straw. Rotary separation is now common in combine harvesters, but it was William and Frederick Streich and Frank McBain who first developed a prototype in Manitoba in the 1950s.”
With the increase in agricultural innovation came an increase in urbanization. In 1931, one in three Canadians lived on a farm, whereas today, only one in 50 Canadians has a direct link to farms producing food. “It would be easy to say people are less aware of where their food comes from now than they were 60 years ago, simply because less people are ‘farming’ or living in rural settings where food production is centred,” says Burchill. “I believe all Canadians, regardless of whether they live in a rural, urban or suburban setting, have a genuine interest in finding out more about where their food comes from.”
The population shift from rural farms and villages to urban and suburban settings that took place in the past 60 years has impacted Canadians’ understanding of food production. But in recent years, people have become more interested in how and where their food is grown. “Canada has given rise to a new generation of consumer who is genuinely interested in the processes that bring their food from farm to fork.”
As Director General of the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, Burchill understands the importance of educating the public on food production and sustainable agriculture. “As the Museum is uniquely situated as a working farm in the heart of Ottawa, we have the opportunity to allow urban audiences to get up close with farming practices they may have never experienced before.” By letting people observe their dairy herd being milked, getting lessons in apiculture from their resident bee-expert, or learning about the journey from wheat stalk to flour with their daily demonstrations, the museum seeks to connect urban audiences with farming practices through memorable, hands-on experiences.
Influencing the next generation is of particular interest to the agriculture industry. Allowing young people to engage with where their food comes from in a hands-on way, the industry fosters an interest in food production and sustainable agriculture. This enthusiasm encourages the next generation to pursue career paths in agriculture and food production.
The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, located in Ottawa, is a working farm in the heart of the city. Visitors can explore the sights and sounds of typical farm life, get up close with the animals, and explore agricultural history and contemporary agricultural problems and solutions in a number of fun, interactive exhibitions. With a wide variety of school programs for students of all ages, daily demonstrations that showcase different aspects of food production, and festivals and events year round, the Museum connects Canadians with our country’s rich agricultural history, contemporary farming practices, and the ways in which Canadian farms are innovating to ensure food security for generations to come. To find out more about the museum and see a full list of their school programs, visit their website here.