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Film screening looks to bridge farming knowledge gap during Ag Day

Before The Plate, a 90-minute documentary, was screened at the Moose Jaw Public Library Tuesday as part of Canada's Agriculture Day
2019-02-12 Canada Ag Day MG
Members of the public and the agriculture industry and community gathered for coffee, donuts and conversation during the open house at the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in Moose Jaw Tuesday morning. (Matthew Gourlie photograph)

Even with the growth of the farm-to-table movement in the culinary world, there is a disconnect between consumers and how their food is produced.

A 90-minute documentary, Before The Plate, was screened at the Moose Jaw Public Library Tuesday as part of Canada's Agriculture Day. 

The film features John Horne, district executive chef of Canoe in Toronto, and attempts to close the gap in perception between the urban consumer and the agriculture industry in Canada.

"(Horne) designs a plate to serve at the restaurant, and it has 10 ingredients. He traces each ingredient back to the farm to show where it's coming from, how it's produced and then how it ends up on your plate at the restaurant," said Jaycee Peutert, farm management extension specialist with the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture.

"(Producer Dylan Sher) grew up in Ontario and he thought he knew about agriculture. He went to the University of Guelph to take Ag Business and he realized he really didn't anything about agriculture. He was totally out of his element and realized that it was totally different from the city perspective. He met up with a film student (director Sagi Kahane-Rapport) and it evolved from there and they made this really cool documentary."

Before The Plate follows young farmers and industry experts in order to show the general population what a modern Canadian farm operation looks like, and answer the most pressing questions consumers have about their food and food safety.

"It's safe. Farmer feed their food to their families," Peutert said. "They want to produce good, affordable, safe food for consumers. We find that disconnect from the farm is creating a gap in knowledge. Consumers want to know what's in their food and where it's coming from. Which is a totally valid question. And farmers want that to be available.

The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity found that most Canadians are disconnected from the farm, with 93 per cent surveyed saying that they know little-to-nothing about farming. While that percentage would surely be a little lower in Saskatchewan, Peutert said the problem is prevalent.

"I feel that even in Saskatchewan it is a problem," Peutert said. "A lot of people in the Ag world aren't totally aware of how bad it is. It is something that years ago somebody — maybe it was their grandpa or their grandma — had a farm and so they were going out there. There's fewer farms. There's still family farms, but there are less of them. So we are finding that people don't have that direct link any more, even in Saskatchewan."

That loss of a direct link has also taken the face away from the family farm in some regards. 

"Just because it's maybe produced on a bigger scale doesn't mean that it isn't just as safe or that the farmer doesn't care as much, because they do," Peutert said. "People hear about 'the factory farm' and they think modern agriculture has turned into factory farming. It's 97 per cent of farms that are family-owned. It's just for tax planning reasons that they incorporate, but the shareholders are mom and dad or dad and son. It's still that family farm at the root of it, which I think gets lost on people."

In addition to the film screening, the Agriculture Knowledge Centre in Moose Jaw hosted an open house Tuesday morning.

"We all get really busy, but it's just a day to take some time to celebrate Ag Day," Peutert said. "We all love agriculture. Everybody loves it for a different reason and a lot of them are common values, I find. So then trying to share our joy and appreciation for ag and bridge that gap a little bit to connect the farmers and the consumers."