Alberta to Africa — a continued role in farm extension

Charlie Cheshire spent his entire career helping farmers adopt new technologies in his home province of Alberta. He worked with radio to reach more Albertan farmers once a week. Today he’s doing the same — for farmers in Africa.

Charlie started with Alberta’s extension service in 1947, before most farms even had electricity. “I knew when I returned from the war that I wanted to help farm men and women understand and access new technologies. Electricity was brand new. We ran courses all over rural Alberta to teach farmers to do their own wiring,” Charlie says.

“It was wonderful. Big changes were coming and we didn’t have to persuade farmers. They were asking questions and seeking information.”

By the late 1950s, extension agents with Alberta Agriculture had helped 8,000 farmers wire their farms. Charlie also remembers teaching farmers about new building technologies (plywood and vapour barrier), field machinery, water use and livestock production.

In the 1940s, radio had a profound impact on communication and change in all parts of society but radio was especially important in rural Canada. When possible, extension agents and broadcasters met to discuss new practices and the best way to keep farm families informed. Charlie says it was at one of these meetings in Guelph in the early 1960s that Charlie first met Farm Radio International (FRI) founder George Atkins, then a CBC farm broadcaster in Toronto.

“Alberta radio stations were focused on the farm listener and I saw the opportunity to work closely with those stations to get a message to farmers.”

The radio broadcasters wanted stories about something practical that was happening on the farm. Charlie tried to introduce new ideas and supplement that information with first-hand experiences of farmers.

“I tried to introduce the idea of the improvement and then talk with farmers who had first-hand experience. That’s what makes a radio program effective; talking directly to farmers and making it possible for them to talk to other farmers.

Sometimes, I could see an improvement on a farm in the morning and talk about it on the radio that afternoon. Radio is so effective and so immediate.

Last year, Charlie’s daughter gave him a Christmas gift of a donation to Farm Radio International. “Farm Radio International caught my attention immediately. I thought, ‘Wow! This is something really worthwhile. This is something I would like to be part of.” Charlie had lost track of George Atkins over the years and was delighted to find out about FRI.

“I have seen so much progress, so many changes for farm families in Alberta over the years. The work of FRI looks very similar to what I had tried to do during my career. I feel a kinship with the extension agents in African countries trying to get information to their farmers. I share their passion and appreciate their challenges.”

Charlie decided to become a supporter of FRI almost immediately. His interest in farm families, extension agents and radio all come together in the programs offered by FRI.

I’ve spent my life trying to inform, inspire and support farm families in Alberta. Through FRI, I can help to do the same thing for farm families in Africa.

By Janette McDonald

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1 Comment

  1. Kiviiri Kanyike on September 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    thank you very much Charles for that wonderful work. I am inquiring how you are in touch with africa, particulary Uganda. I have a project at one of my schools, which aids my pupils learn practical skills, but as well i needed to have some kind of improvement. pliz help me get more about the possibilities.
    Thsnk you and may God bless you.


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