In this episode of Feeding Innovation Podcast, we speak to Agriculture Writer Kaitlin Packer.
Kaitlin shares about her experience of realizing that writing was her passion, and discovering a creative career in agriculture and farming was for her. We also talk about how opinions around food and agriculture differ between rural and urban communities. How emerging technologies like social media can both be a bridge, and widen that gap, depending on how they're used.
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Jordan: Hello and welcome to the feeding innovation podcast. This is your host, Jordan Sloggett today I'm speaking to Kaitlin Packer.
She's published articles in Greenhouse Magazine and Fruit and Vegetable Magazine. The links to which you can find in the description of this episode. Kaitlin shared about growing up in a rural community, her educational journey that brought her to a career as a writer and how her love of all things farm life continues to influence everything she writes.
But before I jump into that conversation, I want it to take a moment to remind any Ontario teachers listening to book a free lesson for your grade seven to 12 class through our Teacher Ambassador Program. Our teacher ambassadors are Ontario certified teachers who bring food literacy and passion for agriculture into your class with curriculum connected virtual lessons.
To request a free lesson today, please go to AgScape.ca/Request-TA. , or look for the link in this episode description and now onto my chat with Kaitlin.
Jordan: Hi, Kaitlin. Thanks for joining me. I really appreciate you taking the [00:01:00] time to talk to me today about your experience as a writer.
Kaitlin: Yeah, thanks for having me, Jordan.
Jordan: Full disclosure for our audience, Kaitlin and I used to work together at a, at a marketing agency in the past. But we're here today to just talk about, your career as an agricultural writer, , reaching both, the agriculture community and outside of it and just your take on writing for that audience.
So why don't you tell me a little bit about your relationship to to agriculture and food growing up? Did you always think you'd end up working in the industry?
Kaitlin: Yeah, that's a great question. I think yes and no. I, so I grew up on a farm in Southwestern Ontario. And my parents had pigs and they had cash crop. Which means they grew. You grew a bunch of different things. They grew corn and soybeans and wheat mainly.
Jordan: I appreciate you taking the time to define what a cash crop is, because I'm sure our audience is going to be a mix of people who immediately know what it is and say, what is a cash crop money doesn't grow on trees? What are you talking about?
Kaitlin: Yeah, that's, that's [00:02:00] true. So basically it's a crop that you sell for money and we, we tend to call it cash crop for some reason.
Jordan: As opposed to other crops that you sell just for the joy of growing it, right.
Kaitlin: Yeah, so I mean I loved growing up on a farm. I think my parents had me and my two older brothers super involved in, in farming and in farm life. We were always out in the barns, feeding the pigs and we all had our own little jobs. , so I really liked, growing up on a farm, but I think I didn't really see myself as a farmer per se maybe ever, but I think during university, I was home a lot and helping my dad on the farm and my brothers were gone at that point. And I think that was when I really started to think about agriculture as part of my career. But I still think at that time it seemed pretty far fetched to [00:03:00] actually become a farmer.
It just seems like a lot. And you know, it's something that a lot of farmers kind of know they want to be farmers from the time they're five years old or whatever, not for everyone, but I think for the, some of the people that I knew, so I think I always kind of wanted farming to be part of my life in some way, but not necessarily as my career, if that makes sense.
that does make sense. I think it's interesting when in a situation like yours, because you grew up on a farm and seeing that farm life like seeing your parents as farmers and, in some ways, It probably, I mean, I don't wanna speak for you, but maybe it limited your view of like how big the sector really is and all the opportunities to work within it.
Especially where, where you ended up in like a creative space. and maybe, before going away to school before kind of, getting back into the industry that maybe you just didn't see those options, or weren't aware of like, just how wide the sector [00:04:00] really.
Kaitlin: Yeah, I think that's definitely true. I think when you, when you grow up, even growing up in the agricultural industry, the main people I saw were farmers and retailers, I guess. But there's so much more to the industry than that. And that's something I'm still learning about,
Kaitlin: once I figured that out, it kind of opened up new opportunities for me.
Jordan: So speaking of those opportunities how long have you worked as a professional writer? And can you talk a little bit about your education path to becoming one?
Kaitlin: Yeah. So I think I've worked as a writer full-time for the past four and a half to five years. But yeah, originally actually I went to school at Western University in London, Ontario for music. So that was kinda my second passion.
I always wanted to be a writer probably since I was in maybe grade six or something like that. I really wanted to write, but I [00:05:00] didn't know anyone who had a career in writing and the, the idea I had writers was kind of the starving artist mentality. know, you can either have your art and starve or you can have a, have a different career.
Jordan: interesting that with that perspective you went into to music because I think a lot of people have that same sort of opinion, right or wrong about a career in music.
Kaitlin: Yeah, absolutely. So I think the reason I went into music was I thought it was the lesser of two evils that I knew people who were music teachers and who had jobs doing that, even though I tried teaching and It's not for me at all, but I just thought that that seemed like the most practical thing.
And then when I got to university, I kind of realized that the people who were in music are so passionate about that and absolute pros and [00:06:00] I was not, I loved writing way more. So yeah, I did that.
Jordan: if you don't mind me asking, what was your instrument of choice?
Kaitlin: So my main instrument was piano. And then I was also starting to learn harp. I did that for a year and then I realized I was not where I was supposed to be. And at the same time I noticed a new program at Western for writing, which I hadn't really seen that when I was applying for university.
And so I just thought, you know what? I might as well just go for it and see what happens. And so I did.
Jordan: I think that's a really good lesson for students. If you're in school, you already been in school. Or you're looking at attending school is that some people know their pathway and, you know, get on one pathway and stick to it. But I think the more common story is people finding what works for them.
It's a hundred percent. Okay. If you start something and you find out it's not for you, [00:07:00] it's better to find out in, the early years of university. You can switch and find something new than to just stick to it because that was the path you were on. So I guess kudos to you to making that decision and, and switching into writing. Have you, I guess this is a personal question. Do you still play or do you still engage with music as a hobby outside of your work?
Kaitlin: Yeah. So I actually continued taking a music minor in university and kind of finished my Royal Conservatory exams during the summers and that sort of thing. Music is definitely still a part of my life. And I think, I think it's, it's kind of nice to have different outlets, creative outlets as well.
And I think that kind of helps with writing too.
Jordan: For sure. So what initially attracted you to a career on writing? When you, had thought of yourself as someone who enjoyed engaging with writing since early elementary school, but at what point did you think of it [00:08:00] as I could do this as a career?
Kaitlin: I think it was around that time when my dad actually was at some sort of agricultural conference and he sat beside an agricultural journalist and started talking to her, he talks to everyone at conferences. So thankfully for that he connected with her, got her contact information, and I had never heard of such a thing as an agricultural journalist.
I mean, I knew they existed because of, you know, the Western Producer and stuff like that, but I didn't really know it was an actual specific career. He got me her contact information. I ended up meeting up with her and just having a conversation. She told me her whole pathway into that career.
And that was kind of the turning point for me, where I was like, oh, okay. This is something that people do. And there's actually quite a big community of people doing it. So [00:09:00] yeah.
Jordan: Well now being on this podcast, you're doing that same thing for, for any of our listeners. So , you're kind of repaying or creating the same experience that you went through.
Kaitlin: Well, I would love if that were the case, because yeah, I want, I want people, especially people who want to write, I want them to know they can do it.
So as a professional writer, you've worked on teams. And I know this because I know the other people that you've worked on teams with, but you've worked on teams with people who don't have that connection to the world of farming and food. Have you had to develop any skills or techniques to help bridge that communication gap?
And are there any attitudes about farming in general that you've encountered from the public? That's not familiar with food and farming that really surprise you?
Kaitlin: Well, even being aware of things like cash crop, sometimes we get in this lingo and we, if you're kind of surrounded by the agricultural industry, It's easy to forget that things like that are not just common [00:10:00] knowledge. But I think the biggest thing for the communication gap that I've found is just listening , if people say something about farming or about food figuring out kind of how they got there and where they're getting their information from.
And just, yeah. Understanding where they're coming from. And then being a safe place to ask questions as well, because it's like with anything, if you're not involved in a specific industry, there's, there's no way you would know some of the stuff that people who do it every day would know. So I know even for myself, having my dad who's who's not going to say, oh, that's a really dumb question.
If I ask them something about farming that I maybe should have known for the past 10 years just yeah. Having that, that open space to actually ask questions and, and not have there be any questions that are off limits.
Jordan: [00:11:00] it, it sounds like your dad was the type of farmer who is thrilled to, to share his farming experience with other people and not not look down upon people who may have ignorant questions or don't understand what goes into a food production, which is a great resource to have in your life I imagine.
Kaitlin: Yeah, for sure. I think that definitely taught me a lot about knowing more about what people are talking about, like consumers are talking about, and then also kind of knowing how to respond to that. And being someone who actually can answer those questions.
Jordan: I think what's interesting from my perspective about food and farming is that, you know, there is a lot of misinformation out there. There's a lot of confusion, but people are usually coming at it from a a genuine place because it impacts, you know, the food that's on their plate. It impacts the decisions about what they choose to feed to their children, for [00:12:00] example and they genuinely do care and want to know.
As opposed to, you know, if someone has controversial opinions about climate science it's, it's just seems like it's, it's not related to their everyday life. So a lot of, in my experience opinions about food and agriculture comes from maybe a place of ignorance, but not necessarily one where they're...
How do I say this? People want to be informed about it. and they're, they're looking for real answers. Hopefully they get those answers from reputable sources since, there's a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of people trying to profit on, the fear of the unknown when it comes to food and agriculture,
Kaitlin: Yeah, for sure. Like you said, they do come from a genuine place and it's also great that so many people really care about their food and where it comes from. Because everyone is a participant in it. We're all either producing or consuming food. So really good to [00:13:00] care about it.
Jordan: You know, 150 years ago, a whole lot more of us were involved in the production of it. It's kind of nice that we're seeing at least I kind of feel like there's a resurgence in people wanting to be informed about their food, wanting to have that connection to where it comes from. So that's, that's great that there's that desire out there.
Jordan: Would you have any advice for someone interested in specializing in a career in agriculture writing who maybe didn't grow up with the same sort of family connections to the industry that you had.
Kaitlin: I think it's sometimes tough if you don't have those connections. But there are ways there's so many, virtual conferences now, to connect with people, there's trade shows even online. I've even message farmers on Twitter that I haven't met in real life just to ask questions and that sort of thing. And they're usually more than happy to answer.
Jordan: In my experience, farmers are some of the most talkative and wanting to talk and wanting to share people. You know, [00:14:00] some of them live in remote places. Some of them spend a lot of time by themselves in their in their tractors and on their combines. So if if you are someone who's wondering, how do I, how do I get into an industry like this?
I think, like you said, When, when conferences opened up again, go in person to a conference, go, go talk to people. People will probably be thrilled that someone is trying to get into the industry. I, I don't think there's a lot of gatekeeping in the industry. I think there's, especially if you just go in from a place of being curious and wanting to talk, there might be gatekeeping.
If you're seen as someone who's an outsider trying to speak for them. But that's, that's a very different experience than just going in and saying, "I'd like to understand more". I think you'll find a lot of people are very receptive.
Kaitlin: I think with social media, there's so much more opportunity to, to, to understand farming. Like there's so many more millennial farmers who are on Instagram and documenting their daily life. And so watching that [00:15:00] and just participating in that whenever you can, a great way to kind of understand the industry a bit.
Jordan: Yeah, I think there's one in P I don't know if you were referencing him in particular, but I think he goes by the millennial farmer on YouTube, who is a vlogger. I don't know if you've okay. I've seen some of his stuff, but.
that, yeah, that's great that a platform like YouTube lets you see into the life of a farmer day to day and you can see, you know, they can share their experiences.
Kaitlin: And even reading, reading, agricultural magazines, if someone is interested in actually writing in the agricultural industry, that's definitely what I did a lot when I was first getting into it, just to understand what people are talking about, what farmers are interested in to.
Jordan: Speaking of those publications, a recent article for greenhouse Canada um, you wrote about a teaching farm. A teaching farm and greenhouse, in Dawson City, Yukon, and . The manager of that farm, Derek Hastings said that the goal of that teaching farm was to bring about a [00:16:00] more engaged citizenry in their food supply. So as a communicator working in agriculture, does that goal resonate to you? And maybe you can just talk a little bit about writing that story.
Kaitlin: Yeah, that was a very interesting story because I think even living down south, like Southern Canada is so different than Northern Canada, and I think they just had a different perspective on food supply. Um, Because they're relying on like one road or something like that to get their foods place docked.
And so they had this, this teaching farm where they were basically. teaching the community, how to grow their own food and be self-sustainable. And I think, I think that's a great thing. Like it's a good thing for education. , good thing for food supply. It was interesting to talk to people [00:17:00] who actually specialize in looking at food supply in Canada and that sort of thing.
I probably can't word for word r estate what they said, but they were basically talking about how, you know, we're not that far away from grocery stores not being stocked, and I think some people don't understand that. And I think that was news to me, even, even being in the agricultural industry, but having local farmers, having Canadian farmers, , having the ag industry be so huge in Canada, I think is so important for our economy and our food supply and everything.
Jordan: That's a really good point point, I think something that became apparent to people at the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, where there was just those shifts in the food supply right? So we saw food that maybe normally was going to restaurants, wasn't going to restaurants and that slight disruption startled people because they were seeing empty shelves for like the first time in their life. like you said, I [00:18:00] think a lot more people are aware just how I guess the machine of our food production system. Um, It, I think it's strong and it runs well and it supplies all of Canada with fresh food or at least a lot of Canada with fresh food. But that doesn't mean that it's not like you said, a few disruptions away from shelves looking a lot emptier. Your local grocery store, it doesn't have a pile of food in the back that they just bring out every day. Like it's a there's shipments coming in every single day that keeps shelves stocked.
And especially if you're living in a Northern community, like you said, there's one road in our out. Something could happen to disrupt traffic on that road. And then suddenly that's going to change the price of food. It's going to change what food is available.
Kaitlin: Yeah. And I think what you said about fresh food, that is, that's a huge thing. Like that's something that not everyone has access to. So the fact that we do is actually a really incredible thing. [00:19:00] And I think also with the whole, pandemic and just the change in, you know, people buying toilet paper and hand sanitizer, just watching how consumer habits also affect food and supply, I think that kind of became more apparent.
Jordan: That was interesting. I know early pandemic. There was a lot of people trying to get into baking for the first time and it caused flour shortages. The food production companies can predict what demand is going to be like. But then uh, a major shift in what our society is doing day to day, it can just have an impact like that, that no one could've predicted that like a whole lot of people are going to get into baking bread for the first time in their life.
Kaitlin: I guess they could have just looked on Instagram and.
Jordan: Maybe that's what a food production and logistics people over the future. There'll be more of that social media listening to see what key influencers are talking about to, to try to manage supply lines. [00:20:00] I can, I can only.
I don't know what goes into that world, but I can only imagine that the sorts of things that they're brainstorming to get ahead of those sorts of trends,
Kaitlin: Yeah, it will be interesting to see.
Jordan: What's an aspect of food and farming that you think goes unappreciated in the wider.
Kaitlin: I think just understanding maybe how innovative farmers are , like the Canadian agricultural industry is actually very top-notch you know, I'm not a researcher, I'm not someone who knows all the stats and all of that. But the more I'm involved in the industry, the more I'm just amazed at, at what's going on and how people are just growing and like using science and technology to really grow the industry and produce food like we never have before. And in safer ways as well, safer and healthier ways. And [00:21:00] then also, you know, how much they care about the environment and their animals and their land.
Kaitlin: I think for the most part, people do do see that and appreciate it, but I think it can sometimes go unnoticed as well.
Jordan: Yeah, that idea of farmers being stewards, it's a word that we like to use within the industry, but I think it really resonates with a lot of farmers. You know, they, they care about their land. They care about their, their crops they take so much pride in production or in the food that their land is able to create and that they're able to make.
And like you said, just the innovation at the heart of the the industry. A lot of that I think goes unnoticed because like you said, go to the grocery store, it's stocked full of food. And, people have some complaints about like the price of food going up and whatnot, but I think. From a [00:22:00] global perspective, our food is still very cheap, it's very fresh and it's of great quality. And they've done a lot of work in ensuring that more food is grown on less land using less destructive habits. So, Yeah that's a great point.
What would an Ontario that was better informed about food and farming look like to you and what sorts of positives might that mean for our food system and everyone that works within it?
Kaitlin: Yeah, that's a big question.
Jordan: feel free to answer part of it, I know it's a lot to tackle.
Kaitlin: Yeah, I think, I think looking at the ideal or my ideal, I guess, would be having people actually see agriculture and food production firsthand and having more people be involved with it, which I think is happening, just more opportunities for anyone to like, meet with farmers, to see [00:23:00] farms virtually even like with virtual reality and stuff like that, I've seen like technologies where people can like walk through a chicken barn or whatever um,
Jordan: I think that's a really neat opportunity. And just uh, that the tools that social media and technology are giving us that kind of cut out some of the you know, someone who lives downtown, major metropolis city can. Virtually walk around farm, walk around to a chicken coop and see that , it's a better firsthand experience than, you know, reading an article or something like that.
Not that articles aren't an important to and important way to transfer that kind of information as well. But I think. Yeah. The future is definitely giving us a lot to look forward to in terms of those virtual bridges that we're building that are connecting our urban and rural populations.
Kaitlin: yeah, I'm excited about it. I think it's with anything like social media has really changed how we look at the world. You can see someone in Italy [00:24:00] and experience what that's like, or you can see someone on a farm and experience with that's like a little bit more and you have that firsthand information rather than just reading about it from like a secondary source or something like that.
Jordan: I like this, a positive view that we have on social media. I feel like social media gets a lot of hate, maybe deservedly so, It's both like a source of, of a lot of good in the way it can connect people. It's also a source of bad that, you know, we're all aware of the issues that social media can cause. But I think just that recognition that can bring a lot of good for people as well and positive opportunities, positive interactions. Especially if you go seeking for positive interactions, there's a lot of negatives that you can connect with and see out there. But that doesn't diminish the good that is there.
Kaitlin: And I think that's, that's another thing too. I think my ideal would be both consumers and producers giving each other the benefit of the doubt and like building a relationship that gives the other, the benefit of the [00:25:00] doubt and the idea that you don't always have all the information of how someone lives or how someone thinks or whatever. So kind of back to that listening piece, being able to, to communicate, in a positive way and actually hear each other out and yeah, build trust, I guess.
Jordan: I really liked how you said that the how the connection goes both ways. I think sometimes from within the sector, it's easy to think of it as an issue on the other side is an issue for the people who are ignorant about where their food comes from, but you know, the person who lives a very rural lifestyle, they don't know what it's like living in downtown of a city and what that connection to food feels like, because are they don't have that lived experience. So giving the benefit of the doubt is something I think both sides can, can engage in and encourage more.
Kaitlin: yeah, for sure. And I think for consumers too, to [00:26:00] know, and I speak of myself as a consumer as well to know that our knowledge of the industry does affect things . And, and even like watching a documentary on Netflix about farming, if all of a sudden everyone watches that one documentary and then changes their buying habits based on that that's going to affect suppliers and producers as well.
So just being cognizant that those kind of minor decisions actually do have a big effect when everyone is kind of thinking the same way. So just, yeah. Being, being mindful of choices as consumers and . Trying to, to hear each other out.
Jordan: I think that's a really positive note for us to leave our listeners on Kaitlin, if people are interested in reaching out to you or reading your writing how can they get in touch or how can they find out more?
Kaitlin: Yeah, so there's a few ways you can go to my website, [00:27:00] www.KaitlinPackerWriter.com. Or you can also follow me on Instagram at @Escaping_Urbanity, urbanity is spelled U-R-B-A-N-I-T-Y. And I'm happy to reply to messages and yeah, just feel free to reach out.
Jordan: That's great. We'll we'll have links for those in the, in the show notes as well. Final question. I've got to ask your, your Instagram handle @Escaping_Urbanity what's your definition of urbanity and why are you trying to escape it?
Kaitlin: Yeah, I think that was kind of inspired when I, when I moved to the city, and I was kind of missing farm life. It kind of inspired me to really get into the outdoors as of a way to relive my roots, I guess. So it's, it's a way to document just all of my outdoor adventures, hiking and canoeing and all of that.
Jordan: So it was a bit of a, you making a statement that just because you had moved to the big city, that you were still a farm girl at heart in some [00:28:00] ways?
Kaitlin: In some ways. I think that's, that's what it was. I think being really proactive about, I love the city now. Actually I live downtown of a big city center, so I do love the city, but I also like to get outside and enjoy nature.
Jordan: well, that's good. And I think an encouraging words for any of our rural listeners who are. Hesitant about maybe pursuing a career that could take them into a urban center. There's a lot to love about life in the city, in my opinion, just as there's a lot to love about life in the countryside.
Jordan: Really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today, Kaitlin.
Kaitlin: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.
Jordan: All right. Take care.
Jordan: Well, that was my conversation with agriculture writer Kaitlin Packer. Kaitin had so thoughtful answers to my questions. And I really hope you enjoyed listening to that conversation as much as I enjoyed having it. If you haven't please subscribe to our podcast feed, which you can find wherever you listen to podcasts by searching [00:29:00] Feeding Innovation by AgScape.
You should also subscribe because in our next episode, I'll be chatting to Ontario teacher, Randy Swain. Randy is spreading food literacy at his school in a unique hands-on program where students take part in all aspects of food production from farm to table. I'll talk to Randy about the journey of developing that program from the ground up and how you, if you're a teacher or educational, professional listening, could do the same at your school. So stay tuned for that. Thanks for listening.