Why 'STEM' Should Be 'STEAM'

Today marks Agriculture Day in Canada.

I’m not sure how many Canadians knew this day was being celebrated by people like myself - a dairy farmer's daughter whose passion for agriculture and communications (with politics thrown in there) led to an agricultural communications role working in provincial politics at Queen's Park.

Agriculture is an industry I really love working in.  

According to my Instagram poll late tonight, which includes a mixed audience of both those in and outside of agriculture, thankfully 67% (or 130 respondents) knew it was #CdnAgDay.

Whether you knew it was Ag Day or not, or work in agriculture or not, we all have one major thing in common - something we can relate too - and that is food.

The other thing we can all most certainly relate too, is having a job.

We all need food to eat and most of us have a job or aspire to have a job. So there, we at have at least two things in common now to continue this productive conversation.

On a day like today, in some instances, it feels like we in agriculture across Canada are a passionate group of people..... who preach to the choir.

It is on days like today, I am reminded of how our industry needs to position ourselves in a way that catches the attention of the 98% of Canadians who do not come from a farm or know anything about agriculture-food.

We need to sell our agri-food industry in a way that is cool and makes young graduates and people WANT to come work with us, much like how the STEM movement has captured the attention of many soon-to-be high school graduates and young career professionals.

Its why I think the movement around STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) should actually be called STEAM, with the 'A' proudly standing for Agriculture.

I am fascinated by the conversation around STEM-related careers. Even here in Canada, we have made it a trendy topic, promoting STEM jobs to Canadian youth. Our Canadian government even launched a campaign in 2017 to encourage young women to choose science. Bravo!

In a fast-paced digital society that is becoming more of a knowledge-based economy, attracting top talent to our agri-food sector will be imperative to fill the more the more than 100,000+ jobs we are going to need to fill in the next decade.

The crazy part? The demand for students with an agriculture-related degree far outweighs the supply of graduates! Just read this University of Guelph report that states "there are 4 jobs for every OAC graduate entering Ontario’s food and agriculture sector."

In all the excitement discussing STEM, we're missing a critical industry that continues to push the envelope in innovation. Agriculture.

An industry that really, in some instances, combines science, technology, engineering and math ALL in one. Agriculture and food combines practical know-how, research and application to create things that we use every day and perhaps take for granted. Things like environmentally-friendly coffee pods, the Yukon Gold potato and for some Canadian dairy farmers, an app for their smartphone that helps farmers monitor and treat ketosis in their dairy cows. How cool is this?!

[Side note, people maybe don't even realize just how tech-savvy farmers really are and how actively they use their smartphone to do business and participate on social media! If you're looking for some examples, just ask me for some savvy farmers and agri-food professionals, I'd be happy to share]

These examples above are just a few that showcase leading-edge technology, research and innovation that takes place every day in our Canadian agri-food industry that consumers and industry benefits from. Examples that combine science, technology, engineering, math and agriculture to produce some pretty awesome results.

Agriculture has even embraced the conversation around the much-needed role of more women in our sector. Groups like Ag Women's Network in Ontario and Saskatchewan Women in Ag, have created a positive atmosphere to promote more women getting involved in agriculture and food. In fact, in the 2016 Canadian Census, the proportion of women who are farm operators increased to 27.8%, for the first time in 15 years! Its been a breathe of fresh air to see this movement take off.. and its a movement that is here to stay.

Canadian agriculture and food needs more savvy individuals to help us in our sector.

Enthusiast individuals and young graduates who can help us grow food; create sustainable and sound food policy; get food from farmers to processors; work in trade so more Canadian-grown food can be exported around the world to address food security; get food from processors to consumers; communicate agriculture's message to the masses; and market food more effectively so it eventually ends up on consumer's plates.

I know why this gap most likely exists in attracting top talent.

Its because we don't make our sector attractive enough or 'sexy' enough to market it and attract young graduates from non-farming backgrounds.

Much like the picture above of me in front of Queen's Park, when you think of agriculture and food related jobs, you probably don't picture someone like myself. This is the game-changer of our industry - you don't have to look like the stereotypical farmer with the straw hat and pitch fork in hand to work in agriculture and food. And you certainly don't need to come from a farm to work in agriculture and food.

Gone are the days where these stereotypes exists. Or at least, they should be by now. Its 2018.

We in the agri-food sector are savvy, sophisticated and passionate people who believe in what we do. Everyone along the value chain is playing a role to ensure the highest-quality, safest products are delivered 365 days a year to Canadian consumers and consumers around the world. For many of us, agriculture and food isn't just an industry we work in but a lifestyle we enjoy 365 days of the year. Not many industries can say this.

It is time we embrace the STEM movement and begin to promote STEAM.

This way, many needs are addressed - those of our agri-food industry who needs top, innovative talent; those of young millennial graduates looking for exciting new careers in an already tight job market; and those of our Canadian consumers who continue to need/want the best food possible.

Its a win-win for all. Now let's get out there and promote STEAM!#MakingAgriFoodCool