Student speaker named champ at Winter Fair

Eric Dalke, ArtSci ’09, won first prize in an agricultural public speaking contest earlier this month for his speech about consumer food quality demands.
Eric Dalke, ArtSci ’09, won first prize in an agricultural public speaking contest earlier this month for his speech about consumer food quality demands.

Eric Dalke, ArtSci ’09, knows what it means to be part of a consumer-driven economy.

At home on his family farm in Morden, Man., Dalke experienced firsthand the effect on farmers of the public’s perception of food quality.

“My family went through the BSE [mad cow] crisis,” he said.

Dalke said that when the crisis hit, shoppers became distrustful of the products in their grocery stores, making it very difficult for cattle farmers to export their beef.

He said his family responded to the problem by opening their own private beef shop in Morden. Their intent was to provide local consumers with products they could feel secure about, he said.

Dalke said his experiences greatly contributed to his success in a public speaking contest at this year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, where he was declared National Champion of the 2005 Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture competition.

The fair was held in Toronto from Nov. 4 to 13.

Dalke learned many of his public speaking skills at his local 4-H club, with which he’s been involved for nearly 10 years.

The club—whose four Hs stand for head, heart, hands and health—operates mostly in rural areas to teach children of all ages about the many different aspects of agriculture and farm life.

The first Canadian chapter of 4-H was founded in Roland, Man., in 1913.

At the fair, Dalke gave a speech entitled: “Do the Demands of a Quality-Based Food Market Limit or Empower Farmers?”

Dalke explained the speech topic in terms of a regular trip to the grocery store.

“We have this demand, be it subconscious or conscious, we have a demand for a certain quality,” he said.

Dalke said consumers expect their food to be uniform and consistent.

“When you come back for that Granny Smith [apple], you want it to be the same every time,” he explained.

He said consumers often don’t stop to think about where their food comes from, or who might have produced it.

Dalke said his speech also discussed issues of government regulations and international trade standards for food quality.

He said he doesn’t think there is any topic he would rather have addressed.

“It had so much to do with personal experience,” he said, adding that he thinks the committee chose excellent topics for the speakers.

Regarding the business of agriculture as a whole, Dalke said he feels that Canadians need to take responsibility for breaking their own stereotypes.

“Agriculture is much more modern than people think it is,” he said. “[Agriculture] is on the cutting edge as much as anything else.” Dalke said he sees farming as a rapidly expanding industry that is incorporating more and more new technology into its everyday practices.

He said it’s for this reason that he plans to return to the family business after graduation.

“There is opportunity [in agriculture], if we do it right,” he said.

Agriculture is not the only thing on Dalke’s mind—he is currently majoring in political studies, and said he might one day pursue politics—but he said wherever his life takes him, he knows agriculture will always be close to his heart.

“It’s a way of life,” he said. “It will always be a part of you.”

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