A Girl Least Likely, Part IV

DO YOU SOCIAL MEDIA? (cont’d from Part III) Don’t get me wrong. I loved what I was doing as an academic researcher, but I found myself feeling a bit disconnected from the real world. I felt isolated in that ivory tower and I didn’t always ‘fit in’. I was hungry to connect with public, with farmers in particular. I wanted a stronger connection with the people that grew our food and, of course, the consumers that ate it.

My students in a third year Research Methodology class that I was teaching at the University of Calgary dragged me kicking a screaming onto Facebook in 2007. There, and on Twitter, I found a voice. I was able to share what I knew and learned and engage in dialogue about agriculture from my unique perspective.

I was an early entrant to the social media space on this topic. At the time, I predicted that social media would radically change the conversation around food and agriculture.  And not necessarily for the better. While my colleagues in academia saw social media as a passing fad, we soon discovered that things played more or less how I expected. And throughout all this, I continued to engage online — and I even got into it with some basement-dwelling trolls.

This all landed me a bit of notoriety. I scored invites to Canola Camp in Manitoba. I got to be a farmer for a day with the Galbraith family. I participated in media interviews. I was invited to write mainstream articles for the Western Producer, Scientific American, and Genetic Literacy Project.

I co-led the organization of the very first Biotech Bootcamp at the University of Florida. There have since been 4 more in North America. I even had the opportunity to present on a panel with renowned journalist, Mark Lynas.

And this all lead me to my current role with Bayer where I get to be part of an organization doing so much to advance modern agriculture and improve lives.

This was my unexpected journey through agriculture. There was some planning, a few accidents along the way (happy and unhappy ones), a bit of serendipity, and a lot of good luck.  I was blessed with some amazing mentors and I learned from mentoring moments – both good and bad. 

Amid the grief, loss, chaos, and some very marvelous milestones, I learned a few things:

  1. We are told these days to tell our stories in agriculture. But life’s personal triumphs and tragedies cannot be disentangled from our vocation in ag. I encourage you to let your skeletons dance. Embrace your vulnerabilities and share them. Because without darkness there can be no light.
  2. Lean into discomfort: for example, engaging in new conversations with new people who may think a bit differently than you do. There are great rewards in it and, I promise you, some very pleasant surprises.
  3. Self-doubt. It’s a universal, and a very human response to some of the crap that life deals you. But don’t let self-doubt define you – allow it drive you. When that renowned plant scientist tells you that you won’t amount to anything, prove him spectacularly wrong. Don’t get one degree, get two.
  4. This sounds cliché but don’t take any moment in your life for granted. Personal stories have a way of gaining new meaning over time.  In the mid-90s, my feet were firmly planted in the middle of a story that I had no idea I was part of. That team of scientists that I served coffee to in Saskatoon was the same team that brought genetically engineered canola to the market.  That was huge event in Canada’s agriculture history. And while I didn’t get the significance of the story I was living out then, I certainly get it now.

Speaking of things coming full circle, remember that farm boy I married back in the 80s? Well, guess what, after almost two decades after our divorce, we rediscovered one another and have since remarried.

Final words of wisdom:

“For every one person that tells you you can’t do something, surround yourself with five more than tell you you can.

Enlist their help to get you there.

Then succeed spectacularly.

A Girl Least Likely, Part I, Part II, Part III

Tommy Lee and his friends at PETA – wayyyy off-track. Pun intended.

Disclaimer: These words are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Stampede or its affiliates.

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Why am I not surprised? It looks like Tommy Lee took a page out of his ex-wife’s ‘play book’ on how to stay relevant in the eyes of one’s fans – – – become a celebrity endorser for PETA.  [*head shake*]

tommy lee 1

Today, Mötley Crüe rocker Tommy Lee submitted a letter to Premier Redford asking for the Calgary Stampede’s chuckwagon races be cancelled, “…horses [are] killed year after year,” he says. Hmmm… I wonder where Tommy gets his info from? Did he pick a random factoid from the “PETA hat of nonsense”, perhaps? Tommy, only 50 horses have died out of an estimated 75,000 that have participated in Stampedes over the past three decades. This number represents ‘a percentage of a percentage of a percentage’ based upon total race starts.

You might recall that last year I took PETA and Pamela Anderson to task over the same kind of drivel. It really burns my britches when celebrities adopt a cause, push a political agenda (amplified by ego or other personal motivations) and see fit to misrepresent or malign good people and good practices (I see it in agriculture all the time). Flanking her friends at PETA and another Stampede-critic Bob Barker, Pamela Anderson hit the headlines after the tragic accident on the track last year and petitioned the Premier of Alberta to ban the sport (check out my Dear Pam letter, July 2012).

PETA (and its celebrity sidekicks) have absolutely NO clue as to what goes on in the chuckwagon world.  I had the opportunity to visit the chuckwagon barns at the Stampede last year and witnessed first-hand how well these magnificent horses are cared for. Chuckwagon drivers spend hours every day with their horses – feeding, grooming, washing and caring for them. The sport of chuckwagon racing has an extensive history (with the Stampede and beyond) and there are incredibly strong familial links in the chuckwagon community. These people work together, play together and have developed working and sporting protocols that are dedicated to maintaining high standards in the sport and in animal care. And these protocols and standards are constantly improving and evolving. Horses are a chuckwagon driver’s life. I don’t know any cowboy (or cowgirl, for that matter) whose thoughts don’t often return to their horse(s) throughout the day. These people love their horses. They, like all people that bring their animals to the Stampede, care deeply about animal welfare and well-being.

I have been studying PETA – as an organization – for several years. Their business and organizational mandates have changed considerably over the past two decades.


Where once the organization really did some terrific things, PETA is now focused more on building its arsenal of celebrity endorsers and less on caring for the animals. This might explain PETA’s 90%+ euthanization rates (they got themselves into some (criminal) hot water back in 2005).

PETA supporters often respond to comments regarding its euthanization rates by saying that those animals were so sick from neglect or so badly beaten that they *had* to be euthanized. Ok…I get that. But if that’s the case, why isn’t PETA using its massive resources (reported revenues of US$42 million in 2011) to go after *those* nasty buggers that *do* abuse animals? There is NO evidence whatsoever that the organization dedicates any funding to ensuring that these abusers are brought to justice. Sure, PETA tries to sell itself as an animal welfare organization. But it spends less than one percent of its multi-million dollar budget actually helping animals. PETA is a lobbying organization – plain and simple **(see note below).  It’s in the business of creating publicity stunts. In other words, creating controversy where none exists. 

Statistics show that risks to an animal in the sport of chuckwagon racing are minuscule relative to the values that are extracted by the equine athletes themselves. According to a friend of mine, thoroughbreds are the “unruly teenagers” of the horse world. They are high energy animals, they are athletes and they are always ready to run. That’s what they are born and bred for. They have a great quality of life in the sport of chuckwagons.

So, PETA (and Tommy Lee), you need to do your homework!  These horses are very well cared for and the Calgary Stampede adheres to the highest of standards when it comes to animal care and welfare.  By the way, Premier Redford is in no position to even *think* about cancelling the chuckwagons.  That would be political suicide for her in this part of the world. But it doesn’t really matter anyway, does it PETA, because we all know that this is just another publicity stunt, right?!

Pam and Tommy aren’t the first celebrity PETA endorsers and they won’t be the last.  It doesn’t hurt to keep in mind that…

1)      PETA is, for all intents and purposes, a ‘corporation’ with a bottom-line goal to maximize donor dollars in order to fund publicity stunts.  Statistics don’t matter to PETA (nor does the health and welfare of animals if their euthanization rates are any indication). Optics are what matters to PETA.

2)      Celebrities, like Pam and Tommy Lee, also have bottom-line motivated ‘political’ agendas.  Celebrities are always looking for ways to remain relevant in the eyes of the fans.  They write books, they might change their image as a way re-invent their career and sometimes – YES – sometimes they become spokespersons for organizations like PETA (they do get paid for this work, by the way).

If you get a chance to, read this great blog by dairy farmer, Carrie Mess.  PETA and Ryan Gosling together think that they know something about de-horning in dairy cattle.  Carrie thinks otherwise:

“So, in the meantime [Ryan Gosling] how about you stick to making movies that I probably won’t watch and I will keep taking care of my cows. No hard feelings. I’m sure your agent thought this whole PETA thing sounded like a great idea but you might want to let your agent know that PETA has the same amount of respect out here in the real world as the National Enquirer has in your world.” – Carrie Mess


On final note – as you are sitting in the grandstands at the Calgary Stampede this July, cheering on our chuckwagons, supporting our community and our western lifestyle, remember this – – – PETA is somewhere close by, hanging in the ‘wings’, rubbing its collective palms together just waiting for an accident to happen. That is, after all, what will help PETA to achieve its mandate. Sad, isn’t it?


**PETA does not have charitable tax status in Canada because of its business activities so it operates under TIDES Canada Foundation.  TIDES was accused of money laundering by EthicalOil.org in August of last year. I am unsure of what the status of that is at this point.

Support your local animal shelters!!!

From “Eh” to “ZZZZZ….” – and throughout the day – Ag is important!

This was published on the Calgary Stampede Blog and in Huffington Post Alberta.  Are you a teacher? I invite you to use this material in the classroom setting…engage your students in discussions on how important agriculture is to us – EVERY DAY and throughout the day!

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From the time you wake up and your feet hit that hardwood floor until you tuck yourself into those cotton sheets at night, agriculture is a constant in your everyday life. 

What did you have for breakfast this morning?  Eggs? Perhaps a couple pieces of toast?

Between the farmgate and your morning breakfast plate, a lot happens!  The agriculture value chain is always at work bringing food to your table every day.  Eggs are recognized for their outstanding nutritional qualities containing vitamins, iron and protein. Did you know that there are more than 1000 registered egg farms in Canada? On average, flocks are comprised of just over 19,000 chickens that each lay ~300 eggs per year!  From whole wheat to rye to whole grain products, there are a number of healthy bread options. Did you know that Canada is known the world over for its premium wheat varieties?  Wheat is grown throughout Canada but mostly in the Prairies – with Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan being the three major growing provinces. Canadian mills grind over 3.5 million tonnes of wheat, oats and barley every year and export these products to over 30 countries!

r-WHEAT-FIELD-large570 HUFF PO Canada

How did you get to and from work or school?

Whether you drove or used public transportation, biofuels likely provided the fuel that got you from point “A” to point “B”.  There are two forms of biofuels: ethanol and biodiesel.  Ethanol is produced from crops like corn, sorghum, potatoes, wheat, and sugar cane. When ethanol is combined with gasoline, it creates fuel burning efficiencies.  Biodiesel is specifically designed for diesel engines and is derived from natural oils like soybeans. Like ethanol, it is a renewable fuel. Both forms of biofuels have definite advantages over petroleum-based alternatives gasoline – they are way better for the environment!

Photo source: Great Lakes Biodiesel

Photo source: Great Lakes Biodiesel

What’s for Dinner?

Do you fancy a BBQ? Rib steak with a side of quinoa and maybe a fresh garden salad?  There are 80,000 beef cattle ranches currently operating in Canada. In 2009 alone, Canada produced over 3 million pounds of beef.  Canada is the 6th largest beef exporting country in the world and the average Canadian eats approximately 46 pounds of beef per year!  Quinoa is a relatively new crop for Canadian agriculture but several varieties have been adapted to grow on the prairies.  If you have never tried it, quinoa is a great alternative to rice or pasta and has a mild, slightly nutty taste to it.  An excellent source of protein and carbohydrates, both the seeds and the leaves of the Quinoa plant can be eaten. The leaves can even be cooked and served as a side dish, similar to beet greens.  Speaking of green, what about a nice, fresh salad with that BBQ?

Photo Source: Alberta Beef

Photo Source: Alberta Beef

Now that we know what’s ‘on’ the BBQ, let’s talk about what’s in it. Did you know that biomass pellets and briquettes are made from agricultural and forest harvesting residues and are used in BBQs?  And not only in BBQs, but in boilers and furnaces as well! This alternative energy source is cost effective and helps us all to reduce fossil fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Good-night… and Good Ag!

It’s been a long day… how about an evening snack of cereal or a cup of warm milk before you hit the (cotton) sheets?  As you cross that kitchen linoleum floor to the fridge to grab a carton of milk, take note that flax oil is used to manufacture this type of flooring.  It is also used to finish wood and is an important component of the paint that is on your walls.  Most people think that flax is just for use in cereal or as a nutritional supplement.  It’s so much more than that! Flax is used to make linen fabric and is currently being developed as insulation for buildings and as composites in car dashboards, too! Flax is such a flexible crop and Canada is a world leading producer and exporter of flax.

Finally, as that milk simmers on the stove, think about this. The typical dairy cow produces 30 litres of milk from two daily milkings! The dairy industry ranks third in the Canadian agricultural sector following grains and oilseeds, and red meats. Most (80+%) dairy farms are located in Ontario and Quebec and the average dairy operation has about 60 cows.  That means lots of wholesome dairy goodness  – including cheese, yogurt and cream – on your table every day!

Photo source: Rural Living Canada

Photo source: Rural Living Canada

From “Eh” to “Zzzzz….” – and throughout the day – Canadians use hundreds of things that are products of modern agriculture.  From food to fuels; from linoleum to lotions – agriculture plays an important role in our day-to-day lives.

Look around you… what things can you see that come from agriculture?

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Don’t miss Aggie Days April 13 and 14 at the BMO Centre, Stampede Park. Admission is FREE for everyone! And make sure you become a fan and follower of the Aggie Days Facebook and Twitter accounts for all the latest news!

Calgary Stampede: an Ag Media Postscript

Well, another Stampede has come and gone. I have been to a few Stampedes in my lifetime and enjoyed each and every one. But this year marks something different for me – and more than just the fact that the Calgary Stampede celebrated its 100th Anniversary. My experiences this year were unique. This year I was one of 2000 volunteers that were part of serving the Stampede and its patrons.

Last year on Twitter, I started following an amazing young agvocate – Rosie Templeton. During the 2011 Stampede, Rosie was interning with the Ag Media Committee. Through Rosie, I was introduced to the great work that this Committee does in service to the Stampede and in service to agriculture overall. I thought to myself, “Self, wouldn’t this be a great Committee to work on with the Stampede?”

Well, we got the ball rolling – Rosie and I – and eventually I was connected to and embraced by an unbelievable group of women affiliated with the Ag Media Committee – all capable, professional, responsive and warm. I couldn’t ask for a better group of agvocate-colleagues! Through working with this Committee, I experienced many wonderful things at this year’s Centennial Stampede!

1. I got to help out various morning shows segments (Global, CTV, Breakfast Television) with the morning “hits” bringing animals (from Ag-tivity in the City, Country Critters and the Ag Barns) in for the programs and organizing special interactive features for hosts (Leslie Horton, Cynthia Roebuck and Jill Belland). Got to work with other radio personalities and journalists, too, all in the name of promoting and featuring agriculture!

“How YOU doin’?” (one of my favourites at Country Critters)

Erin Wilde of KOOL 101.5 interviews cowboy cutters, Dustin Gonnet and Cody Smith.

2. I rode Hamish, a hugely handsome Clydesdale that is part of the Express Clydesdales entourage (thanks to Doug Sauter for his participation and support). Hamish also pulled the Express coach that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge rode in at the 2011 Stampede. I guess you might say that I am one step closer to Royalty! …Well, sort of.

Me and Hamish (for the record, he likes mints)

3. I got to be part of the Centennial Celebrations by joining my fellow Stampede volunteers at one of the daily cake cutting ceremonies held in the Pavilion. Joining us was “Rancher Jack” who never ceases to entertain the crowds with his antics and humour! The Stampede gave out 500 free pieces of cake every day! Yummy!

Western Performance Horse Committee volunteer Michele Waldner and Rancher Jack ‘cuttin’ a rug’ at Centennial celebrations in the Pavilion.

4. Subsequently, I became quite a fan of “Rancher Jack” so I sent a colorful ‘incognito’ love note to him via his mailbox in the Pavilion signing it “your secret admirer” (tee hee – shhhhh, don’t tell The Cowboy).

5. I got to spend some time in the International Agriculture Committee’s International Room, meeting folks from all over the world! Australia, Germany, US, Jamaica. Good stuff!

Me and Ag Media Vice Chair, Nicole Hensen, locked up in Draft Horse Town. Mayor Dale Befus sprung us and we are now ‘on the lam’ with the help of some of our international ag friends!

6. My fellow Ag Media peep, Emily, and I participated in a Tweet-Off at the Social Media Hub hosted by the Calgary Herald. For the record, @embkay kicked my ‘sorry tweetin’ butt’.

Ag Media Committee member, Emily Kay, and me at the Calgary Herald’s High Noon Tweet off!

7. Sat in on the Rodeo, cheered on the Chucks, ate kettle cooked popcorn ’til I was positively green!

Me and the Duke. Yeah, we go way back.

8. And a big deal for me personally was watching my kid @tanyaryanmusic win the Nashville North Competition. Yay!!! Follow Tanya Ryan on Facebook and Twitter (@tanyaryanmusic). There is lots coming up for her!

Tanya Ryan, Nashville North Star (Calgary Sun, July 11, 2012)

At this year’s Stampede, I learned much; I experienced much. It was a great year! And I look forward to many, many more and to rejoining my Ag Media colleagues and other Stampede enthusiasts for next year’s celebrations! If you didn’t make it to Stampede, here is a link to what you missed: 100 Unforgettable Stampede Moments (Calgary Herald). I highly recommend that you put the Calgary Stampede on your calendar for next year!

Celebrating milestones as only the Stampede can!

As some of you may know, I am a volunteer with the Calgary Stampede working with the Ag Media Committee.  This year, of course, represents a milestone for the Stampede as it celebrates its 100 year anniversary.

The Light Horse Committee also celebrates a milestone this year, celebrating 35 years with the Stampede!  I had the opportunity to interview Gus McCollister, long-time volunteer with the Committee.  I really enjoyed conversing with this colourful lady! Check it out on the Calgary Stampede Blog:

Gus McCollister: “Young people really are the necessary lifeblood of [the Light Horse] Committee.  They contribute to discussions and they are enthusiastic sources of new ideas. These young people always seem to come up with ways to make things run better too!”


I have been neglecting my blog. And my followers.  I have been… Blognostic.

Besides being ‘busier than a one armed wallpaper hanger’ (borrowed from cowboy-extraordinaire JW Campbell’s collection of colourful yet oft politically incorrect phrases), I have not been compelled to blog-share of late.  And I’m not sure what this lackadaisical attitude stems from.  Some sort of ‘social media’ transformation perhaps? Virtual soul searching? I know that there has been much (professionally and personally) that has distracted me from my usual online activities.

1) I have been preparing for a number of forthcoming conferences.  Two in the EU (Spain and Italy) in June. One in Asia that will be presented by an extraordinary PhD Student with the Johnson Shoyama School of Public Policy. Four presentations.  Four papers.  One on social media policy in universities, one on regulating new plant breeding techniques, one on scholarly networks attached to synchrotron science and one on public private partnerships in research.  Diverse, huh? Work on that last one has been done almost exclusively by our co-author.  Did I mention that I work with a brilliant group of folks?

2) The 100th Anniversary of the Calgary Stampede is coming up in July and I am on the Ag Media Committee.  I work with two amazing agricultural committees: Light Horse and Western Performance Horse. ‘Nuff said.

3) Dewdney Players Group Theatre’s production of “Rodeo & Julie-Ed” is in full swing. I am in charge of tickets. I. AM. THE. BOX. OFFICE. The job has earned me an honorary role as an extra in this hilarious musical improv. My name? “Runs with Tickets” of course!  I’ve got a costume and everything! (It’s a great production, by the way! Want tickets? Call me!)

4) Tanya, our daughter, is pushing her music career to the max these days.  We are helping her out.  This past month has been crazy.  Competition, press kits, meetings, bookings, website development, demos, videos, production and recording.  Crazy.  But productive. (follow her on Twitter: @tanyaryanmusic)

5) Then there is work.  Plain and simple.  Work.  The day-to-day tasks that come with being ‘all that is academic’ (drum roll, please). Like finalizing articles for publication (forthcoming one with S. Smyth in AgBioForum documenting the rise and fall of Triffid flax) and not to mention finishing off a book on innovation in oilseeds research (with P. Phillips, G. Webb and J. Karwandy).  That book is due out in October of this year (publisher: CABI). And let’s not forget the reporting requirements for the TUFGEN project. Plus working with colleagues to develop RFPs and grant applications for new research projects.  All in a day’s work. Phew.

I apologize to those dedicated followers that follow and read my Twitter/blog musings… I have been neglecting the social media part of my life of late. In addition to all the activities outlined above, there have been other things that have distracted me.  Personal stuff.  I have lost a number of loved ones over the past few years.  Too many.  All close.  And even though much of the grieving has been done (or so I thought), it seems like I am reliving past losses all over again with every new loss that comes along.  I’m not sure what it is but it makes it awfully tough to virtually-socially-mediate when I feel like this. I am an emotional desert.  I guess that much of my thought processes turn inward and I just focus on tangible tasks at hand.

Thanks for listening/reading about my blognostically-busy-blue-ness.  It’s time to get back in the social media saddle again, folks. I’m working on it.

From bio-composites to blush: how agriculture meets our daily needs in non-food ways

The first in a series of blog entries for the Calgary Stampede.

“Food” is often the first thing that comes to mind when we think about farming and agriculture; things like fruits or vegetables or commodity crops such as wheat, barley and canola. Food is an essential part of our every day lives and we are fortunate to live in a part of the world where we can enjoy a variety of foodstuffs sourced from our ‘friendly farmer’.

But did you know that farming and agriculture is more than just “food”? Whether you live in the city or the country, products of agriculture are all around you. And you just might be surprised the shape and form those products take!

Take, for example, biocomposites. A biocomposite is a material formed through the combination of a polymer with natural plant fibers such as hemp or flax. Biocomposite materials can be easily molded into things such as car dashboards or car door panels. (See the biocomposite specs on the “Kestrel” car developed in Alberta by Motive Industries). Biocomposites are also used not only in the manufacture of weed control materials or textiles but also in the development of ‘green’ building products such as biofibre insulation and cement and fibreboard panels (see the Alberta-based company, TTS, for information on their biocomposite products and innovations).

Car panel door, photo sourced from: Wikipedia

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have agricultural goods used in the manufacturing of hair and skin care products as well as cosmetics. Emolient oils (EOs) are extracted from the seeds of crops such as flax, palm, soybean, sunflower, hemp or canola. EOs can penetrate the skin and bind to the membrane of the skin making them useful additives to a variety of beauty products such as skin moisturizers, anti-dandruff shampoos and even permanent waving agents. Cornstarch, derived from corn, is often used in eyeshadows and blushes.

Peas have been known to be used in facial masks. Oats and oat products serve as effective moisturizing and skin protection agents. And let’s not forget “Royal Jelly”. Royal Jelly is secreted from the glands of worker bees to feed larvae and queen bee within a bee colony. Not only does Royal Jelly have anti-biotic and anti-inflammatory properties (and pharmaceutical application), it is also widely used in cosmetic and beauty products. Lanolin is a yellow waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep. It is used in a variety of products from cream make-up to lipgloss to hand and skin moisturizers. Even bull semen is used as an additive in hair care products!

These are just a few of many examples of how agriculture is all around us. Agriculture is more than just food… it is an essential part of our everyday lives. No matter where we live!

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Cami Ryan is a researcher with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan. Her family farmed and she grew up as a “townie” in rural Saskatchewan. Farming and agriculture has always been an important part of her life – both professionally and personally. Cami lives with her family and a collection of critters on an acreage just south of Calgary.