As we walk the fruit and veggie aisles or the bakery, meat and dairy departments during our weekly grocery shopping trips, how much thought do we really give to where our food actually comes from, the safe food practices adhered to by farms or wonder, “What does ‘organic’ truly mean”?
When my eldest son was 4 years old, we visited my grandparents in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan as we had many times previously. Having been career farmers, upon retiring in the “city”, my grandparents made sure they had a large garden in their vast backyard so they could continue to grow their staple vegetables and fruits; carrots, potatoes, peas and raspberries just to name a few. One morning, planning for lunch and dinner, my Grandmother stated that she was going to “get some carrots and peas”. My son chirped up and said, “Oh are we going to the store?” “No,” said my Grandfather who was also present, “we’re going to the garden.” The confused look on my son’s face prompted my Grandfather to expand on his explanation in his heavy French accent – “The garden in the backyard, where we grow carrots and peas in the ground.” My 4-year-old, eyes wide open, incredulously stated, “Grandpapa! You’re telling stories!”
We adults laughed, but as we took him out to the garden to show my son how the veggies grew from the ground, shelling peas on the climbing vines and fruit on the bushes, it suddenly occurred to me that we had never really explained to him where our food came from or how it appeared in the store! Chances are, unless your child has had exposure to your own family garden or the subject addressed at school, they might possess the same naiveté. Even some adults only have a vague understanding. The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is one venue that can explain this farm to table “mystery” with fabulously entertaining hands on activities and displays.
With over 14 Education Centres to explore and discover the story of farm to table, a great place to start is the Dairy Farmers of Ontario Milk House display and interactive cow milking demonstration. Learn about the different breeds of dairy cattle, how the cows are cared for, safely prepared for milking and the actual milking process itself as well as how it gets to market. Audience members can participate during the presentation by answering questions on-screen when they are provided with an answer selector device.
Teachers/Instructors who are interested in bringing a version of this experience to their students may be interested to know that the Dairy Farmers of Ontario offers a free interactive classroom session with a professional Dairy Educator. The program is 45 minutes in length, is based on the Ontario Curriculum and features interactive activities to keep the audience engaged in expanding their knowledge of the dairy industry. Further information about this program can be obtained by emailing a Dairy Educator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next, climb aboard the Grain Farmers of Ontario interactive trailer. See first hand how wheat, corn and oat seedlings appear through the soil and what the plants look like as they grow. Children can then apply that new knowledge toward understanding what foods and products they might eat regularly that are purchased from the store.
- Do you know your egg anatomy?
- How long does it take to get eggs from farm to table?
- Why are some eggs brown and others white?
- How are “organic” eggs produced?
- What is the difference between “free range” and “free run” barns/farms?
- How many eggs does a single hen lay per year?
Find out all about pigs at the Pig Mobile, including their life cycle. If you are lucky, you might even get to see piglets feeding!
At the Bee and Honey Education Centre, learn how bees are vital to pollination of plants and why it is so important that we work to help them thrive. Want to save your honey? What can we do to help? Visit the livestock Education Centres too where the kids can see sheep, llamas, goats, poultry and alpacas! Of course remember to visit the Live Green Toronto booth where they will explain all about compost. You can even receive your own ball of compost/soil and choose from pumpkin, soy, echinacea or pea seeds! Take it home and watch it grow!
Finally, remember to visit the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association booth; see what’s in season. Find out about the apple varieties that grow in Ontario. Ask: when is the best time for picking? Which apples are best for snacking or baking?
Regardless of what your family’s favourite foods are, you will find all the information you need to educate and enlighten yourselves about how they grow, raised and get to your grocery vendor or market. How do all of these different types of crops/foods/meats contribute to our overall nutrition? Debunk myths and learn the facts about great nutrition for yourself and your family! Once you’ve learned the how’s and why’s, visit the artisans and food exhibitors to taste test and purchase the ones you like best to take home and enjoy. I challenge you to learn at least one thing about farm to table that you did not already know! I did – Bon Appetit!