FoodGrads Podcast Ep 20: Understanding the role of policy in building communities with Danielle Collins Economic Development Policy Analyst at Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Welcome to episode 20 of the FoodGrads Podcast. The podcast where we explore careers in the food, beverage and hospitality industries. I’m your host Veronica Hislop, a molecular science graduate student and career partner with FoodGrads.
On this week’s podcast, I interviewed Danielle Collins Economic Development Policy Analyst at Ontario Federation of Agriculture. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is a farmer-led dynamic provincial lobby which works to represent the interests of its farm members to government. There mission is to will work collaboratively towards a profitable, sustainable future for Ontario farmers.
In this episode, I learned about Danielle’s career journey. She interestingly went to the University of Guelph for Neutroscience but after graduating realized this path wasn’t for her and instead pivoted into a ac from getting a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience at the University of Guelph to pivoting into a career of Economic Development. Danielle better explained to me what policy’s and how OFA is helping Canadian farmers. It was really fascinating because honestly before this episode I didn’t know much about what policies are.
Overall, the message of this episode was that the agrifood industry needs people from every background. Danielle dispells a lot of myths in this episode such as agrifood jobs are only in the middle of nowhere and she drops a lot of good advice that anyone can apply at any stage of their careers.
So let’s jump into it. Onto the show!
[2:46] Can you explain what you do as an Environment Policy Analyst and how the transition came about from you transferring from Neuroscience to Agricultural Industry?
- OFA is a general farm organization that covers all farm types with farmers as members.
- Danielle’s role is growing the agrifood sector to make sure the farming industry is viable and is growing
- Danielle went to an art’s high school but then was interested in science so she did a Neuroscience Undergrad at the University of Guelph. Afterwards she took a few years off and worked in the culinary tourism industry. That is where her passion for local food
- Afterwards, she went back to get a Master’s degree in Economic Development because she was interested in business. She actually applied for a different job at the OFA and they actually created this role for her.
[5:42] How is economic development different than a standard business degree?
- Economic development at the University of Waterloo is focus on the physical development of communities and the environment. While it does have business components but traditionally those in economics are interested to work for municipalities and help businesses grow such as incentive programs.
- Economic development is about community building at it’s core.
[8:00] Can you tell me more about the Feeding Your Future Campaign?
- Was started in 2020 in response to COVID but this has been an issue for the sector for a bit
- Feeding in Your Future campaign is focused on how on getting people more aware, how do you get people excited and help them get their jobs even outside the typical network
- In the past year they have ran virtual career fairs, webinars, a job matching service with farmers, a large training components
- There are a ton of other careers which are not just farmers. All backgrounds are needed.
[12:15] Students is a broad term as there are students from high school to graduate school and everyone in between. What kind of jobs are there? Are there jobs available for someone just coming out of high school?
- The entire agrifood sector needs people with different backgrounds really any educational background there is a spot for you. There is a lot of opportunities for people to learn on the job and just by doing. It is a bout work ethics and willingness to learn. Most times they need to train you on the job anyways.
- Agrimanagemet at this university e
[14:35] How do you get your foot in the door when you might not know what you want to do?
- Employers are looking for people who are interested
- Feeding Your Future is offering an online certificate that covers Ag 101. With the goal of telling you the jobs that occur on the farm, what a day looks like on the farm and safety training
[16:38] A lot of young people might assume that all agrifood jobs are on a farm. Is this really the case?
- Working on farms there is a broad range some are on the fringe while some are in the city. Some people have desk jobs, some have sales jobs driving around everywhere
- In relation to transportation some people might not be able to drive to work and that is where OFA comes in trying to help get affordable transit by working with cities
- There are a lot of agrifood opportunities even in the suburbs. There is agriponics, vertical farming and green houses which aren’t in a farmers field. The cannabis industry has grown and Niagara College has legitimized this industry even though their might be taboos.
[22:38] What is a policy and how does it even start to begin?
- Usually initiated at a government level. They might want to protect or encourage something. They are acts and legislation that help with a broad range of things such as protecting the environment or help farm practices.
[24:40] How do you even start to measure if a policy is working and making an impact?
- Canadian Agricultural Partnership
- There are many different streams and there are different deliverables they must go through. The Feeding Your Future campaign is a bit easier to track for example by seeing how many people have attended. Social media presence helps to engage employers and the general public
- Social Media Platforms for Feeding Your Future
my twitter https://twitter.com/letsgrowfood
[32:09] Do you any advice would you give to a student who wants to show their transferable skills?
- From an agrifood employer they are more looking for work ethic and willingness to learn and give it your all
- Even a volunteer position isn’t directly related to something for an employer it can show your willingness to put yourself out their
- Do research on the company, the industry and your have a genuine interests. It is impressive if you know the company’s mission and why you choose them
[34:36] Are there any associations or networking groups that relate to the agricultural sector that a student could maybe check ou?
- Junior Farmers of Ontario
- Connect with local organization because a lot of the provincial organization have a local chapter
- Volunteer at a local farmers market do anything that you can do to put yourself out there. Things that may not seem relevant to you maybe relevant to the employer
[39:10] Could you give any advice to students who want to go into agrifood?
- Think about what your interests are and how it could apply to this industry.
- There are a lot of interesting jobs you might not think are agriculture but you can find a connection. Even if you like to shop local you can make that connection
- For example, Danielle with her story she applied for a job because of her love of agriculture and although she didn’t get that job what ended up happening is that they called her back and made a job literally for her so you never know where things are going to take you
- Don’t underestimate the power of relationships. Her first job out of master’s was based on a recommendation from a professor. Even a professor who taught you in your undergraduate would be willing to write a recommendation years after your graduation.
- Think about your school as your career and give it your all. Don’t just see it as your grades but also your networking place
Where to find them?
Danielle’s twitter https://twitter.com/letsgrowfood