School blasted for environmental message

Agriculture in the Classroom hopes controversy can lead to an opportunity to show how farmers are working sustainably

An anti-agriculture sign outside an elementary school in Outlook, Sask., on May 26 sparked outrage in the community.

The sign read, “Farming affects oceans. Chemicals hurt habitats & species. It also decr (decreases) oxygen levels.”

Sun West School Division apologized on Twitter for the sign.

“The message was unfair to the agricultural industry and we understand why many people, especially those whose livelihood comes from farming, found it offensive,” one of the tweets said.

The message on the sign was changed to say, “Agriculture — the most healthful most useful & most noble employment of man. (George) Washington.”

Andrew Scheer, MP for Regina–Qu’Appelle and former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, spoke out about the sign on Facebook.

“Radical activists should not be indoctrinating our kids like this,” part of his post said.

Randy Emmerson, director of education for Sun West School Division, said the sign was a miscommunication of information.

“It was a mistake and it was poor judgment,” Emmerson said.

“It was not the intention to spread propaganda. This isn’t a teacher who isn’t aware of farming. She grew up on a farm.”

Emmerson said the class was learning about sustainability. The teacher summarized the information for the sign, but he said it was condensed too far.

“The school admin had given her the authority to change the sign without previewing the message, so that’s something that we’ll correct as a system procedure,” he said.

However, amid the controversy comes opportunity.

Sara Symko, executive director of Agriculture in the Classroom, Saskatchewan, said this situation provided the charity just that.

“This is happening in classrooms really across Canada,” said Symko.

“And so we need to look for shared values and create a safe space for the students and the teachers to ask questions they might have, and tell the truth about what’s actually happening in agriculture.”

Symko wants to address the issues the sign brought up and show how farmers are working sustainably.

“I’m sure they’re concerned about the environment as the school sign indicated; well so are people in agriculture,” she said.

Many farmers and people in agriculture on Facebook and Twitter noted this ideal of sustainability as well, taking to social media to explain how farming can help the environment.

Agriculture in the Classroom has worked with Sun West School division and Outlook Elementary School in the past. Symko hopes they can work together again in the future.

Emmerson said the school division has a strong relationship with Ag in the Classroom, and it plans on strengthening it.

“We’re taking this back to its roots. We’re going to be educating our educators. We’re going to be reviewing the resources we have to make sure we have the accurate, local, Saskatchewan context information.

“We are taking the steps necessary to not only repair the relationship we have with our communities and in particular our farming communities, and we’re going to rebuild them bigger, stronger, deeper.”