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By Codie O’Neil (2020/2021 Dalhousie Agricultural Students’ Association President), Lauren Peters (Class of ‘19), and Kamryn Findlay (Class of ‘16, ‘19)
Why is agriculture important? Why should students consider studying a program in agriculture? What benefits do students gain from working in the agricultural industry or on a farm?
These questions have been constantly swirling in our minds during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have come together as a proud agricultural community, commonly known as “Aggies”, with the intent to shift the conversation about agriculture in our region and find answers to these questions.
Agriculture is more important than ever in today’s ever-changing society and environment. Our farmers and agriculture professionals have collectively proven their innovation and dedication during this pandemic to feed our local communities. COVID-19 has truly shone light on how critically important agriculture is for ensuring our communities have access to safe and nutritious food, beverages and assorted agricultural products and services.
Agriculture extends well past your typical ‘farmer’ and involves every step of the value chain. In 2017, Codie O’Neil began her studies at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture.
“The people I have met within the agricultural industry come from all different backgrounds outside of this sector, we are from the small rural communities, but we are also from the big cities. Some of us go back to generational farms, but some of us have started our own farms through innovation and creativity. Some of us work in an office and others in the field or in a lab. But we are all joined by one thing, which is our passion for agriculture,” explains Codie.
The word ‘agriculture’ has a variety of emotive perceptions and interpretations. To Codie, “the agricultural industry is more than what you think when you first hear the word ‘agriculture’ or ‘farming’, we are more than just straw hats and coveralls. We work in business, finances, and marketing. We are researchers, doctors and scientists. We are educated and we are passionate about our work and all the ways that we help and grow living things. We are Aggies and we are proud to do the hard work.”
Faculty of Agriculture students and recent alumni have a wealth of insight to the benefits that exist while choosing to study in the field of agriculture. Students and alumni work tirelessly to change the narrative of the agricultural industry.
For fourth-year Plant Science student Jillian Shaw, agriculture was not her first choice of post-secondary education.
“I do not come from an agricultural background and I never gave much thought to what the agricultural sector had to offer. After starting at Dalhousie University’s Agricultural Campus, I knew I had made the right choice. What I had realised is that the agricultural sector was much vaster than I had expected and that this industry was overflowing with opportunities,” says Jillian. “Summer internships have taught me that there are jobs for all types of people in agriculture such as accountants, doctors, teachers and researchers. You can work in a lab, in the fields, with the public, or in an office. There are jobs for all types of people with all types of abilities and interests.”
Codie O’Neil, who also serves as the current Dalhousie Agricultural Students’ Association President, adds “I have learned skills that I would have not been able to attain any place else. I have learned strong work ethic and team building. I have learned to care about others and to care about animals. I have learned the value and vast broadness that the agricultural industry is, and everything that it has to offer.”
Jillian Shaw has found her true passion within the agricultural sector and has acquired skills that can be used for any type of career she may decide to follow in the future. When asked why she decided to change her course of study to agriculture, Jillian explains that “people seem to underestimate the agricultural sector. Agriculture is a sector that is advancing and changing at a fast pace, which means it is filled with endless opportunities and growth. This is why I chose to study in agriculture.”
As first year student Baillie Lynds moves into her second year of study, she has proven that agricultural and farm summer employment is just as beneficial for feeding our community as it is for learning new skills.
Baillie explains “a summer job in agriculture can be very rewarding as there is always something to be learned and applied. This summer, I am working on an ecological farm and I love it! I am learning about vegetable production, environmental and biodiversity practices, the power of supporting local, small business, marketing and so much more. This experience has broadened my knowledge, interest and appreciation for agriculture and has helped me decide my field of study. I am very proud to be working in agriculture.” After beginning her studies in Animal Science at the Faculty of Agriculture, she has changed her focus of study to Plant Science. Baillie adds, “to me, agriculture means making a difference. Agriculture is very diverse as it includes farmers, scientists, engineers, businesspeople and teachers, just to name a few. Through their collaboration, efforts are being made to address issues like food security and climate change.”
Growing up in the agricultural industry, third-year Bioveterinary Science student Campbell Hart always knew he had a keen passion for livestock agriculture, growing food, as well as the synergist relationship between the environment and agriculture. Campbell’s passion has contributed vastly to his home community in Cape Breton, NS, as he grew his own agricultural venture which enabled him to not only grow food but give back to his community.
Agriculture has become a “way of life” for Campbell which has instilled in him a work ethic, business skill set, a passion, a community network and other attributes, many of which are transferable to various sectors now and in the future. Campbell explains, “agriculture is an industry that continues to both challenge and reward oneself, whilst continuously advancing on many fronts including technology and policy. As stewards of the land, together we must make efficient use of production inputs throughout the livestock industry to meet the growing demand for quality livestock products whilst minimizing its impact on the environment and precious natural resources. Starting from the ground, understanding well-being and having a passion is where it begins.”
Upon completing the Bachelor of Science in Agriculture program with a major in Agricultural Business and a minor in Animal Science in 2018, alumnus Connor Morse has vast insight into the value of agricultural education and experience. Growing up on a mixed dairy and beef farm with the experience of working alongside his grandfather and father in the Annapolis Valley, NS, contributed to Connor’s interest and future in the industry.
“Farming alongside my father and grandfather instilled a sense of pride and also a sense of responsibility in myself to maintain our family land. My goal since childhood was to eventually take over our family farm. The farm has grown substantially over the last decade and I am currently working full time on our family farm, while managing my own purebred beef herd and marketing genetics across the country.” Connor’s educational background in the Agricultural Business program gave him the added education and confidence to succeed in the industry.
Many farms and agricultural services have been impacted by COVID-19. Agriculture provides many jobs and an economic boom to rural communities. “Agriculture is the original essential service and I am proud to be a member of the agricultural community and thankful to have been able to remain focused and busy during this unprecedented time. No matter what is going on in the world, people need to eat; and farmers alongside with other agriculture workers must continue to provide products for human consumption,” Connor explains. He also adds, “the agricultural field is constantly changing but will always be essential and I encourage everyone to get connected with agriculture in some way, even if it’s not working on a farm, in order to learn more about where your food comes from. With so much uncertainty in the world it is refreshing to see consumers realize the importance of buying local and shortening the food supply chain, which is integral for the success of farms across Nova Scotia.”
Born and raised in the rural of community of St. Andrews, NS, recent alumnus Lauren Peters now leads the Faculty of Agriculture's efforts to raise the profile of agriculture in high schools and communities in the region as the Community Education Manager. Lauren grew up as a member of her local 4-H club and was always interested in food and agriculture. Although she did not come directly from a farm, Lauren has always been interested in the way food is produced.
“Living beside a dairy farm and working while a student on an egg farm, I developed a passion for learning about agriculture. It was this discovered passion that drew my attention to Dal AC and the International Food Business program, despite my initial intent to attend culinary school.” After graduating with the Class of 2019, Lauren now has a new passion for agricultural awareness and education. Lauren adds, “within my role as Community Education Manager, I am able to share my passion and knowledge for the industry with youth and community members. The Community Education program aims to contribute to the development of sustainable and healthy communities by promoting a broad understanding of agriculture and research to educators, students, community groups, and the general public.”
Colette Wyllie, Chair of the Dalhousie Faculty of Agriculture Alumni Association and Class of 2010 (NSAC) shared similar thoughts around the impacts of COVID-19 on the agricultural industry, “a combination of labour shortages and increased demand for local food has created a perfect storm for Canadian farmers – but there is no option to quit.
"The industry simply cannot be put on a hold because people must still have access to food. Colette also stated the impacts that the industry faces after the pandemic, “we’ll still be faced with the major global issues of climate change, food insecurity, water shortages, and waste generation.” In light of the issues, Colette added a message of hope for all of the current students and prospective students. “There are achievable solutions for these issues out there and it’s quite likely that they’ll be found within agriculture by bright, young, innovative minds. The opportunities within this field are truly endless for those who want to be part of the future.”
Our farmers and agricultural professionals share a passion and responsibility to provide high quality food to our families and local communities. Despite the challenges that farms, and agriculture face, students and alumni continue to strive to change the narrative and bring positivity to the critical role they play in the industry. Connor Morse shares, “the agricultural community is tight knit and supportive of one another, I don’t work in agriculture for the money, I do what I do for that sense of pride and accomplishment we feel when the job gets done and for the love and devotion I have for my animals and land.”
We are a strong and supportive group of Aggies across our province that have many skills gained from working in diverse agriculture, farm employment, and internships. There are many stories that we can continue to share, instead, we urge our communities to reach out to ask questions and help support agriculture in our province by continuing to buy local. As Aggies, we share a common goal of striving to feed our communities and being stewards of the land.
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