When did we lose touch with our relationship to the land? In the face of unprecedented environmental challenges, it has become crucial for us to return to local, sustainable foods. But how do we return to this way of life? How do we rebuild our relationship with our food?
Inspired by these challenges, two McGill graduates are testing out a solution: start with educating future consumers. L’École-O-Champ, launched by agronomists Valérie Toupin-Dubé and Mathieu Rouleau, teaches kids about our food systems and plants the seed for an appreciation of local agriculture.
Rural and urban life: two worlds collide
Valérie Toupin-Dubé and Mathieu Rouleau both came from rural areas. When they started at McGill, they were surprised by how distant their new urban lives felt from the farming environments they grew up in. Driven by a desire to unite these two familiar worlds, they created École-O-Champ. At the Macdonald campus in 2013, with the help of Dr. Caroline Begg, this student initiative was sparked with a driving force: to restore the link between young urbanites and the agricultural world.
A student project spreads across Quebec
In its first year, École-O-Champ had over 350 youth participate in its programs – in farms, schools, and even summer camps. They wrote educational content, trained day camp leaders and teachers, and made appearances at agricultural fairs and UPA open houses across Quebec. In just a few years, École-O-Champ had developed vast expertise.
Through the backing of Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, it officially became a non-profit organization in 2016. Since then, École-O-Champ has expanded its services across Quebec. What started as a school project at McGill has spread across regions – the Laurentides, Lanaudière, Outaouais, Montréal, Laval and Montérégie.
Sensitizing young people to agricultural issues
By popularizing scientific knowledge, increasing access to agri-educational resources, and bringing kids into rural communities, École-O-Champ is helping young people see how their actions affect our environment.
Now established in more than 20 municipalities, École-O-Champ collaborates with farms across Quebec, reconnecting us to the land, one kid at a time. Educators teach about agricultural production and animal husbandry in a tangible way. They plan activities where kids can get their hands dirty – from gardening and brewing compost, to learning what soil is made of, distinguishing pests from beneficial insects, and understanding animal behavior.
Weaving links between consumers and producers
This project isn’t just benefitting our planet and youth – it’s helping the people cultivating our food too. Farmers are learning about a new source of income — agricultural tourism — while promoting their profession to future generations. By demystifying the agricultural world and championing its importance, École-O-Champ is weaving lasting links between tomorrow’s consumers and Quebec's agri-food producers.
If it’s true that we are what we eat, and what we choose to consume will impact our planet’s future, École-O-Champ is undeniably part of the solution.