“The key thing for journalists is to ‘tell the stories’ and to create hope,”
Jill Clapperton, speaker, IFAJ 2011 Congress
International journalists had the opportunity to Experience New World Agriculture during the 2011 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress in September. It was enlightening for this communicator to have a first-hand look at agricultural journalism in action – and was it in action! Photo journalists had their cameras at the ready for every photo opportunity that presented itself. Farm writers’ note pads and electronic recorders saved notable quotes from the many speakers, tours and from other delegates. Leads and story ideas were shared. Impromptu media interviews and scrums took place.
Social media was front and centre throughout the congress as delegates used smart phones to ‘tweet’, blogged, posted updates to facebook, uploaded videos to YouTube and shared photos via Flickr. The Canadian stories were going global almost as fast as they were being presented. Those unable to attend were kept abreast of the happenings and even able to follow along on the ensuing Twitter ‘bus wars’ during the congress tours along the shores of three of Canada’s Great Lakes – Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Ontario.
Diversity, sustainability and innovation are all used often to describe Canadian agriculture, and these were highlighted throughout the conference itinerary. The congress opened in Guelph with an introduction to Canada’s agricultural industry and how Canadian farmers are helping to feed the world’s growing population. Guest speaker Jack Wilkinson said that it is the role of international journalists to create a much stronger agriculture industry in every country if we are to feed 10 billion people in the future.
The Lake Ontario Tour showcased two very famous Canadian products, bison and maple syrup, and also included stops at an artisan cheese factory, cider house and winery. Encircled by a herd of magnificent wild animals, high on a hilltop in Northumberland County, Rod Potter of Century Game Park, recited his ‘Ode to the Majestic Bison’ in a booming voice to his awestruck visitors. The Potter farm embraces a holistic approach to farming, utilizing its natural grasslands to their highest potential in the production of quality meat products, free of growth hormones, steroids, drug or chemical residues. North America’s native people both hunted and worshiped bison and they were also the first to make maple syrup. It seemed fitting that we travelled next to Sandy Flat Sugar Bush & Pancake House for a lunch featuring local foods including some of that delicious amber nectar only produced in Canada and the United States. George and Alice Potter shared their sweet story while leading a short tour on land that has been tapped since the mid 1800s. They have 5,000 taps on 50 acres of maple trees and it takes 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup.
Then it was a short drive south to Prince Edward County, home to some of Ontario’s newest wineries and a great deal more. ‘The County’s’ first vineyard was established in 1993 and Waupoos Estate Winery opened to the public in 2001. Waupoos now produces 50,000 to 60,000 bottles each year from their 20 acres of grapes. The family operated estate winery, County Cider, specializing in hard cider, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented apple juice, produces over 130,000 litres annually from the more than 15 varieties of apples grown at their two orchards. Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company’s states that their mission is: to become a successful and leading artisan cheese dairy founded on the principles of sustainable design plus sustainable and socially responsible enterprise management. North America’s first Platinum LEED certified dairy utilizes the most environmentally friendly technologies. The sheep and goat milk used in the production of their quality cheeses come from Local Food Plus certified farms. Their packaging is biodegradable or recyclable. At Fifth Town the cheeses are aged using time honoured artisanal methods in Ontario’s only underground aging facility (caves) which reduce the energy required while maintaining a steady cool temperature.
Enroute to Niagara Falls the group made a stop at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre where Donald Ziraldo, chair and Dr. Jim Brandle, CEO explained that the centre focuses on three core areas: consumer insights and product innovation; applied genomics; and horticultural production systems. Projects here include: the breeding of new varieties of flowers and vegetables using genomic techniques; the Greening Highways Project focusing on pollution mitigation and carbon sequestration along with increasing tree survival in stressful environments; and the development and production of world crops to feed Canada’s growing multicultural population. An afternoon visit and tasting at the prestigious Foreign Affair Winery was included in the tour. The congress ended in Niagara Falls with keynote speakers focusing on the world’s burgeoning population and how the agricultural industry needs to adapt and change in order to be able to sustainably produce more food for the future. Honourable Lyle Vanclief, honourary chair of the IFAJ 2011 Congress urged the more than 250 international journalists, from over 30 countries to use the power of their stories to address this international issue.