Dr. Tracy Gilson, the operations manager with the Bruce D. Campbell Farm and Food Discovery Centre says, since the facility opened its doors three years ago, the baby pigs are still its most popular attraction.
The University of Manitoba’s Bruce D. Campbell Farm and Food Discovery Centre, located on highway 75 south of Winnipeg, features hands on displays and activities designed to explain the science involved in food production.
Dr. Gilson says the centre started with a vision from its foundational supporters, Bruce D. Campbell and his wife, Leslie Campbell.
“They realize individuals are getting further and further from the farm, but still have an interest in food production,” she says. “Bruce and Leslie want to support a facility that allows people to learn about agriculture and food production through exhibits and displays and be right here on our research station.”
The Campbell’s gave support to put a building together with additional support from the industry to put up displays and to support visitors that come to the facility.
Gilson says, in 2014, the centre attracted just over five thousand visitors with the majority of those people being elementary school students from grade five to grade eight.
While good for all ages, the design focuses mostly for school children from classes in Winnipeg and around the province.
“So the displays are geared for very young children right to grade 10, 11 and 12,” says Dr. Gilson. “That is our target audience, that’s the group that is interested and wants to know about food production. They’re learning it in school so we provide them the opportunity to come here and see some of the features.”
She says the centre has program activities geared to a specific audience, whether younger or older children, everything from the dairy program, and milk where they get to tour the barn, make butter and make ice cream to learning how an egg develops.
“I think probably our biggest feature is when we have the baby piglets,” said Gilson. “While in the centre you can see into an operating swine unit, so you can follow the sows from the breeding portion, through gestation to delivery of the piglets, and then once they wean the piglets, you can see them as well. I think that’s probably the highlight, when we have baby pigs.”
The centre also has other displays, including an enriched laying cage that people can see how hens are in a production system.
“We don’t have hens in the cage but we do have the cage so they can see the different features,” she says. “Upon request we can take individuals and tour the dairy barn where they can actually go in and see our 52 head dairy cows.”
Another goal is for them to have the public come through and learn where their food comes from, too, not only the school children and how it is produced. Dr. Gilson says when people first walk into the centre, they’re amazed at the facility and often can’t believe this gem is here and they knew nothing about it. Once they go through, the information presented also amazes and impresses them leaving them as they go out feeling they have learned something in a very easy discovery way.
“They are able to interact with the displays and learn about food production,” she says. “While thinking sometimes it is a long drive from their classrooms to the centre, for those children they can see the actual cropping systems along the highway, the fields, and the different crops farmers grow.”
When asked about how effective they are in bringing the public together with the scientists and researchers, Gilson says they’re planning tech talks starting in fall to connect their scientists, the public, and the industry partners and share information.
“What interests the public about food production and have our scientists explain the research they do and the discovery that actually influences the way the food gets put on their plate,” says Dr. Gilson. “I call it knowledge translation about how scientists continually make discoveries, but limited in ways that an individual can actually find out about these discoveries.”
They certainly won’t read the scientific journals, but the facility can play a role in actually translating that information in a language consumers can understand and determine how it does affect them.  •
— By Harry Siemens