On a beautiful day in early October, 35 teachers from around Alberta gathered in the warm sunshine on W.A. Ranches, just west of Calgary. On a hillside surrounded by crop fields, the teachers had a terrific view of the sliver of native grassland that remains in the coulee around Skull Lake. It was a perfect spot to discuss the role of beef cattle in preserving what little remains of Alberta’s native grasslands, especially considering high crop prices and increasing pressures to convert land.
Dr. Ed Pajor, from the University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine program, spoke to the teachers about the role of W.A. Ranches in youth and post-secondary education. Alberta producers Cherie Copithorne-Barnes and Bob Lowe discussed the status of native grasslands, the ecosystem services that cattle provide, and the immense soil carbon that exists in these landscapes.
The tour was organized by Inside Education, a not-for-profit group that develops classroom resources, professional development tours for educators, and workshops for students. After touring multiple different farms and ranches, the teachers were then tasked with testing a first version of the Guardians of the Grasslands online game.
It is all part of a new partnership with Public and Stakeholder Engagement (PSE), a nationally funded check-off program jointly delivered by the Canadian Cattle Association and Canada Beef. Recognizing that Gen Z is the most removed, and most skeptical, of food production means that classrooms are a vital space to incorporate information about beef production in Canada. Combined with a long-standing relationship with Ag in the Classroom Canada, and its Alberta member Ag for Life, these educational partnerships ensure contact with a wide variety of urban and rural students across the province.
“The teachers gained a ton of info about grazing, beef production, and grassland ecosystems, and I am confident that they will all bring that content into their classrooms in unique and meaningful ways,” said Kathryn Wagner, of Inside Education.
The Guardians of the Grasslands Grazing Game will build on the themes of the short documentary, including the role of cattle in preserving and maintaining Canada’s endangered native grassland ecosystems. The project is jointly funded by PSE, Alberta CAP funding, the Canadian Cattle Foundation, and Ducks Unlimited Canada. In-kind contributions are also being provided by Birds Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Story Brokers Media House. The project has been in development throughout 2022 with the final version expected to be launched and available to teachers for February 2023. Designed with grade 7–10 curriculum outcomes in mind, students will manage native grasslands with a herd of cattle, learning how their decisions impact wildlife species, soil carbon, invasive weeds, and the overall health of the ecosystem.
Partners in education are critical for the development of the game, ensuring terms, learning outcomes, and curriculum links are consistent with expectations of teachers. They are also vital for delivery of these science-based resources, essential for bridging the urban–rural divide and maintaining public trust in Canadian beef production.
For more information about the Guardians of the Grasslands Grazing Game, please contact Amie Peck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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