Millennials ‘meet In The Middle’ To Talk Food, Community And Agriculture

February’s “Meet in the Middle” event brought together 150 millennials from across Alberta, half from the world of agriculture and half from the city, to talk food, community and agriculture. The event was sponsored by ATB, Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance and Alberta Motor Association. ———

One hundred fifty millennials walk into a barn …

No, it’s not the beginning of a joke, but the beginning of a fruitful conversation that I was fortunate to join on a day set aside to celebrate Canada’s agriculture.S

On February 16, 2017, I drove from my farm at Three Hills, AB to Willow Lane Barn just outside of Olds. (Ever the farmer, I had to pop into Olds first to drop off the starter from my auger engine for rebuilding.) The sun was shining and a warm chinook wind made the day feel more like April than mid-February as I drove up to the beautiful hip-roofed barn.

Dozens of people who looked like they could have been rounded up from post-work cocktails at a downtown bar milled about in front of the barn, where large farm equipment was parked.

From the table of drinks I picked up a glass of mead — hopped and fizzy, not sweet like I expected — and introduced myself to the first friendly faces I saw. Dan Molyneux and Nathan Ryan just happened to be representatives of Fallentimber Meadery — located in the foothills north of Calgary — where my drink originated.

Soon, the crowd gathered around a fire pit closer to the farm equipment where we watched as Jamie Parker and Mike Wenzlawe, from Calgary Heritage Roasting Co., showed us how they first learned to roast coffee beans over an open fire — a skill they’ve propelled into a coffee roasting business now humming along in Alberta’s largest city.

Meanwhile, a bus from Calgary and one from Edmonton arrived, delivering their passengers to this appropriately titled event — “Meet in the Middle.” It brought together 150 millennials, half from the world of agriculture and half from urban lives, to this barn in Olds where, under twinkly lights, we dined on locally sourced and created food and beverages all the while partaking in great conversations about food and agriculture.

The event was spawned from “A Seat at our Table,” which is the umbrella name for a number of events organized around food, community and agriculture.

“A Seat at Our Table was created two years ago and it was really about trying to tell an ag story but not from a scientific perspective,” said Terry Andryo, director of community initiatives – reputation and brand with Alberta Treasury Branch (ATB). “If we get to the consumer through the emotional perspective, which is food, then we might have a chance to get to that connection.”

The partners in this initiative include ATB, the Culinary Tourism Alliance, Bayer and 23 other partners representing various parts of the agriculture industry.

Andryo added that this event was designed specifically to bring young Albertans together who might not have a chance to meet otherwise. About 95 per cent of the Meet in the Middle participants were millennials (the generation born between approximately 1980 and early 2000s) — from the chefs who cooked the five-course meal, to the brewmasters and distillers who provided the drinks, to the photography students who captured the event.

As a millennial farmer myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The food was delicious, but more importantly the conversations were inspiring. For the first part of the evening I sat across from John Kowalchuk, a fellow farmer, and Carol Cooper, a woman from Edmonton who, in her words, “rescues urban fruit.” Beside me sat Eva Wright of Red Deer’s Troubled Monk Brewery, as passionate a beer connoisseur as you’ll find anywhere.

John, who I know from being on the Alberta Pulse Growers’ board together, tapped away at Twitter off and on throughout the evening, joining in the #meetinthemiddle conversation online. Carol, the urban fruit rescuer, explained that her non-profit society harvests unwanted fruit from rhubarb patches, apple trees, raspberry bushes and other fruit-bearing plants growing in older neighbourhoods in the city.

They then turn them into delicious preserves, branded Fruits of Sherbrooke

And Eva told me about how even though she grew up in a city, her favourite job was working on a custom silage crew. Now she passionately promotes beer, crafted with Alberta’s world famous malt barley.

As I drove home from Olds that evening, I reflected on how much we, as farmers, have to share with, as well as learn from, our fellow citizens. I want the world to know that farmers are as tech savvy as they come and you can’t pick one out of a crowd just based on her clothes — we don’t all wear Wranglers and coveralls ya know.

I learned that there are ways to be a farmer that I never could have imagined. Carol collecting fruit and preserving it is not all that different than me. We both take the resources that are available to us and steward them into something more valuable than if they had been left untended.

I realized that many people who have never lived on a farm still have connections with agriculture and they truly value those experiences. Those of us who are engaged in agriculture on a day-to-day basis can get smug, but we get further in the conversation if we understand and honour the meaningful encounters our consumer friends have had with farming, no matter the scope.

From farm to kitchen to table we are all innately connected to one another through food and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have developed a richer understanding of this connection through Meet in the Middle. FF