I have to admit, I'm kinda slow out of the gate on this one. Word came down last week the agriculture campuses at both Kemptville and Alfred, operated by the University of Guelph, would be shuttered.
My initial reaction was somewhere between ho and hum. The reasons for my blasé reaction were lame. It failed the first part of my crack litmus test for the validity of news stories – Kemptville and Alfred are not part of our coverage area.
The second component of the test is even more shallow: I don’t know the first damn thing about agriculture, least of all the education component of same.
Call me stupid (you know you want to, and you’re probably correct) but when I conjure images of post-secondary agriculture classes the first thing that comes to mind is the handing out of licenses to drive tractors, followed quickly by liberal instruction in the use of shovels, rakes and hoses.
In short, I'm an idiot.
The fact of the matter is, upon further review these facilities are an integral component of the agri-food industry in eastern Ontario and deserve a second chance.
Like most people who grew up in a city, I learned about life on the farm via television and nursery rhymes. Fact is farming is a business that is tougher than most, and just as thankless.
I incorrectly assumed that most old farmers started out as young farmers, learning their craft from those that came before them.
That sentiment still holds true, but the reality is with all the science and technology that is being poured into the family farm, those who truly succeed at their craft are learning secrets in classrooms and labs at campuses like Kemptville and Alfred.
Or at least they used to. Opposition MPPs are leaning on the governing Liberals to force the University of Guelph to reconsider its decision.
According to local MPP Jim McDonell the government rebuffed those calls during question period at Queen's Park this week.
We got thrown a carrot of sorts, though, when it was announced that Francophone programming in Alfred would be saved by College Boreal.
My response? Big deal. The Anglophones are still getting tossed aside.
There's something to be said about studying in your own backyard – and I would assume in the agriculture industry it's even more important.
The lay of the land here in eastern Ontario is different than other parts of the province. Seeding, weeding and animal husbandry must be different here than, say, North Bay or Sault Ste. Marie.
Local farmers have told me that they plant crops and rotate vegetation differently in opposing parts of SD and G because of the way the landscape changes – I would venture there is an even steeper learning curve for local farmers who are forced to learn their craft hundreds of kilometres from home.
This makes it even more difficult for local farmers to get ahead in a province that seems to have forgotten every community east of Kingston – or in this case, Guelph.
The university has suggested that the reason it is dropping the programming is simple – not enough students are enrolling.
Not a bad argument – if you believe the university. McDonell doesn’t. He told our reporter this week he has heard enrollment is increasing, and is demanding to know the real reason the campuses in Kemptville in Alfred are closing.
Like everything else, it likely has to do with money.
In the meantime our local farmers, and our agriculture industry, is being provided with a simple message: you don’t matter as much as the rest of the province.
We've heard this kind of talk before. And we're tired of it.