One of the goals of the Youth Ag-Summit is to build a long-term, global community of passionate and engaged “agvocates” who use the Summit as a launchpad for future success. We caught up with James Craig, who attended the first ever Youth Ag-Summit in 2013, to hear what he’s been up to recently, and what advice he has for this year’s cohort of delegates.
James, can you tell us about how your agricultural adventures first began?
Although I grew up on a dairy farm, I originally wanted to be a diplomat! At university, I studied international affairs; ultimately I realized that what I want to do in life can be done closer to home. I moved back to the family farm after seven years away. I’m now both a pasture beef farmer and an agricultural banker. As a life occupation however, I consider myself a diplomat for rural communities.
Why did you decide to attend the Youth Ag-Summit in 2013? What did you gain from the experience?
When I applied for the Calgary event, I was active in a youth development and empowerment organization called 4-H, which partnered with Bayer to host the 2013 YAS. At the same time, the Youth Ag-Summit really matched my joint interests of agriculture, global affairs, and diplomacy.
The most impactful part of the Summit was all the sharing of ideas for change making – being encouraged to take these away and make them a reality. We were asked to come up with ‘three little things’ to act on – I broke my goals down into small, medium, and long-term. In the medium term, I wanted to become more active with food policy experts in my community. Attending the YAS made it clear to me that if there is change to be made, it's up to me to make a difference – and that’s what helped initiate the Perspectives Potluck.
Can you tell us a little more about what Perspectives Potluck is?
A “potluck” is a culinary get-together, where everyone brings a dish to share. It’s an act of coming together. We wanted to translate this spirit into a more formal event: instead of a food dish, attendees bring their perspectives.
I started the Perspectives Potluck with Kelly Hodgins (another YAS alumna) in 2015, and we recently held the second edition this past August on my family’s farm. People were free to come and go throughout, and we had a range of features including an innovative farms tour, speakers, a pasture walk, live music and of course, plenty of time for attendees to have discussions. At any given time, we had around 25 people from many different areas of expertise; farmers, urban agriculturalists, academics, agri-business, nursing, bioinformatics, and social enterprise, to name a few. We were particularly happy to be joined by Brandon Hebor, one of the 2017 Canadian delegates!
To lead the day's discussions we ask people to enact ‘potluck thinking’ as a way of "engaging with others by finding common ground, granting trust, exploring new realities and building a sense of belonging together." It opens up a path for discussion, where people can feel comfortable sharing ideas. We ask attendees to participate with an open mind and to recognize that someone else’s perspective, even if it is very different, has a right to be there. That’s what sets us apart.
What advice would you give to this year’s YAS delegates?
My advice is to enact a desire to listen and learn, as opposed to a desire to speak and be heard. Be curious about the reasons why other people have different perspectives. And lastly, stay involved with the community even once the Summit finishes! The Youth Ag-Summit is such a great idea, and I’m happy that it’s continued and been built on since I took part.