Christmas arrives in November?

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I swear it was only one day after Hallowe’en when the first store flyer filled with Christmas gift ideas and decorations arrived in our house.  Then a couple of days later I dropped in to a local department store and was astounded to see the shelves, that only a few days earlier were stocked with Hallowe’en costumes and treats, were now brimming with the next holiday’s merchandise.  Last evening I stopped at the same store again and noticed a number of folks wheeling overflowing shopping carts to the checkouts.   While waiting in line, I had a friendly chat with another shopper (one who assured me that she is finished gift shopping and that she was just picking up some final odds and ends to complete her decorating).  That’s when I realized that this elf better get her act in order.

It’s time to make some lists and check them twice, and figure out gifts for those who are both naughty :-) and nice.  When I was a child I can remember the excitement in the house the day that the annual Sear’s Wish Book arrived.  Over the next weeks, we took turns dreaming about what we would like to see under the tree on Christmas morning with our name on it, and also looking for that perfect gift for those nearest and dearest to us.  Sometimes a well worn page or two would fall out by the time we had all gone through it too many times to count.  And pages would have circles around favourite items or initials and names beside others, just in case Santa Claus happened by for a quick look at our ‘wish lists’. 

Oh, how times have changed.  This year I have downloaded (or is it uploaded) the 2011 Sear’s Wish Book app to my iPad and can now browse the entire catalogue at my leisure, create as many wish lists as I want and shop from wherever I happen to be.  And no missing pages!  I can do price comparisons online at lots of other stores too, looking for the best deals, before I even venture out to a shopping mall.  Hmmm…wonder if that will even be necessary, as most will deliver my purchases right to my mailbox and guarantee that the goods will arrive before December 25th

I’ll keep you posted on how my holiday prep is going over the next few weeks, and if this new electronic capability minimizes my stress levels any.

And now in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, a couple of photos from last year…

Canada’s agricultural stories go global

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“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. 

My first IFAJ congress

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I am thrilled to be attending the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) congress taking place this week in Canada.  This is my very first IFAJ conference and I am very excited to be taking part as the recipient of the 2011 Eastern Canada Farm Writers’ Association (ECFWA) bursary to attend the national conference.

Starting in Guelph the itinerary will lead 250+ delegates to three very different and diverse areas of Ontario, and then reassemble the group for the wrap-up in Niagara Falls on the weekend.  To view the various tour routes visit http://www.ifaj2011.com/en/about-our-tours

I will be travelling on the Lake Ontario tour, so stay tuned for updates and pics over the next few days, as I visit a bison farm, a maple sugar bush and enjoy some wine and cider in Prince Edward County.

The IFAJ conference will provide me with professional development sessions as well as time to network with other delegates from around the world, providing me with international perspectives on issues and opportunities in agriculture.  This will be of value to me in creating more balanced writing in the future.  I have a firm belief that agriculture in Canada, and around the world, has a great need for more strong voices to tell ‘our’ stories.

Stay tuned….

Getting back to my roots

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Every now and then I like to take some time to relax where I grew up in rural Waterloo Region.  It can include a visit to a local farmers’ market to pick up some fresh local produce or it can just be an afternoon drive down some dusty back roads taking in the scenery.  And some days it can almost be like a step back in time, to a simpler way of life….when farmers worked the land with horses instead of tractors.

Maybe I’ll come upon some livestock grazing contentedly in a pasture field or those above mentioned horses having a well deserved day off from their toil.

I’m back!

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It’s really has been a while since I posted here….hope you all haven’t missed me too much! 

This blog came about as part of the curriculum as  I was completing the Agricultural Communications Program through the University of Guelph.  Once I graduated in December 2009 and it wasn’t part of my ‘have to dos’ it seemed quite easy to just let it go by the wayside and not keep at it.

Well, now I have decided to give this blogging thing another try and to see if I have anything that is of interest to say to any of you out there, who just happen to drop by.

You may wonder what’s new since I last checked in.   Well, I continue to be passionate about agriculture and all things rural.  My latest passion is to try to capture the beauty of the rural landscape and rural life through my camera’s lens.  A leisurely drive in the country can include a number of stops for photo-ops when something catches my eye. 

Here are a few shots I took on a recent evening during wheat harvest.

Agricultural communications diploma opening up to wider audience

(GUELPH, April 28, 2009) — Canada’s online agricultural communications diploma program at the University of Guelph is opening to a wider global audience. 

The three three-day residencies that were part of the limited-enrolment program are being replaced with online learning modules to make the program more accessible, says Owen Roberts, the program’s academic coordinator. 

“The feedback we’re getting is that the residencies restrict too many potential learners from enrolling,” says Roberts. “We want the program to be as widely available as possible, so we are eliminating the residencies.”

Roberts says lessons normally in the residencies, particularly photography and citizen journalism, will be offered online instead. Student presentations that were part of the residencies will be given through videoconferencing or other electronic communications means.

The agricultural communications diploma program is the only one of its kind. The 16-month, five-course program is dedicated to communications skill development and application. It concludes with a three-month virtual internship which pairs student learners with a communications initiative at an agricultural business, agency or organization.    

Applications are being accepted now for the 2009-2010 cohort. For more information, visit www.agcommunications.ca or contact Roberts at owen@uoguelph.ca.

The cost of an oasis in the Sonoran Desert

Drought and a drop in underground water levels are challenges for farmers everywhere. For example, Arizona farmers are trying to maintain an adequate water supply for their operations. Add on a new ‘lakeside’ residential development and it becomes a critical issue.

While living beside a pristine, tranquil lake sounds appealing and is a key tool for selling houses even in these difficult economic times, the reality is, this city is in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, in central Arizona. The lake is manmade and feeds the underground irrigation system that is necessary to keep the large lawns thriving even in the hot dry summer months. A nearby golf course adds to the appeal of this community, but also requires regular watering to keep the greens green.

Most of the water in the Maricopa/Pinal County area is supplied by the Central Arizona Project (CAP). Through a 336-mile long system of aqueducts, tunnels, pumping plants and pipelines, CAP carries Colorado River water from Lake Havasu to the area just southwest of Tucson, where it is managed by individual irrigation districts. Farmers must purchase water to supplement their own supplies from their local irrigation district. Some water comes from natural aquifers, but the aquifers are draining faster than they are being recharged. Eight of the past nine years have been very dry. The groundwater level is dropping and local rivers are drying up. The average annual rainfall is only 11 inches, and when it does rain flooding occurs.

Water starved alfalfa field

Water starved alfalfa field

Arizona’s agriculture depends on water for irrigation of its crops and watering of its livestock. In fact, water supply is a producer’s highest cost! Some are forced to drastic measures. For example, to ensure an adequate water supply for its 10,000 head dairy herd, Shamrock Farms was forced to drill a well more than 1,650 feet deep. Crop farmers are forced to build irrigation ditches on their land to feed the water to their fields and are using advanced laser leveling technology to ensure optimum water flow to their entire crop. Some fields remain uncultivated due to the lack of water supply.

More emphasis must be placed on water preservation and smarter use of this precious resource as the population in this area grows. The appeal of living in the desert is what drew people to this area. More emphasis should be put on desert-adapted landscaping and making wise water use choices. Maintaining a grass lawn in Arizona wastes a considerable amount of water with the constant watering that is necessary in the summer. There are beautiful native shrubs, trees and cactus that are pleasing to the eye and require little water. Perhaps a higher rate could be charged to those who do not use water responsibly.

There is a need to start conserving water supplies to protect the quality of life in the desert environment, today. Conservation and good sense can lead to ensuring that there is enough water available for Arizona’s farmers for years to come.

Irrigation hoses

Irrigation hoses