The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) returned to Queen’s Park recently for its first in-person outreach day since the start of the pandemic. Outreach events are when the OFA board directors and executives spend the day meeting with provincial politicians from all parties and their staff to familiarize them with Ontario agriculture and the issues that matter to farmers and rural communities.
I farm in southwestern Ontario, north of the town of Mitchell, where our family raises broiler chickens and grows corn, wheat, soybeans, and cover crops. This year marked my first in-person outreach event since becoming an OFA director in 2021.
I was impressed by how warmly received we were by elected officials and their staff, as well as their genuine interest in wanting to meet with us and learn about what we do as farmers and food producers.
The day also reiterated for me the importance of connecting with politicians from all parties and particularly about getting to know urban MPPs better. We share common goals and values, and I believe that part of building strong relationships is not just about what we are asking of them, but also trying to get a better understanding of how the agriculture sector can help address their needs and challenges.
Although I’ve only been a director with OFA since 2021, this wasn’t my first time participating in one of the Queen’s Park events. As a younger, newer director with OFA, one of the things I appreciate about the organization is its focus on director development – helping directors learn more about agriculture outside of their own sector or region, giving opportunities to develop new skills, and offering aspiring farm leaders a chance to experience what the organization does in terms of outreach and advocacy.
To that end, the OFA makes a point of inviting local farm leaders to take part in its provincial advocacy days, and I was one of those invitees in 2019 when I had the opportunity to take part in my first Queen’s Park outreach day. It can be a bit intimidating the first time because you don’t know what to expect, but that experience helped me get a better understanding of what OFA does and how advocacy works – and it prepared me to be much more engaged and confident the next time.
This year, the OFA board members and staff were joined at Queen’s Park by six aspiring farm leaders: Daniel Vander Hout from Hamilton-Wentworth, Jordyn Domio from Niagara Region, Andrea McCoy-Naperstkow from Lanark County, Carson Wagner from Oxford County, Derek Brekveld from Thunder Bay, and Charlotte Huitema from Haldimand-Norfolk.
Throughout the day, I was impressed by their knowledge and their passion, and it was great to watch them gain confidence as they participated in both formal and informal meetings. Here are a few of their reflections:
Jordyn grew up on a fruit farm in Niagara Region and now works as a grower at a floral greenhouse. She’s a director with the Niagara Federation of Agriculture and has a strong interest in agricultural policy.
“As a younger member of the ag industry, I feel that it is important to share our ideas and perspectives, and what we want to see out of the industry that we will be a part of for many more years to come,” she says.
Daniel is a fourth-generation farmer who is part of his family’s greenhouse cucumber business and a board member of the Hamilton-Wentworth Federation of Agriculture. He’s deeply passionate about agriculture policy along with being part of efforts to strengthen Ontario’s agriculture sector.
“I am thankful that OFA invited young farmers. Not only has it increased my understanding of our government and how voices in agriculture can make themselves heard, but it has also heightened my appreciation for the OFA and the work they are performing,” he says.