From 1941-1965, the Canadian Farm Radio Forum operated as a mechanism for rural adult education, using the radio as a means of spanning Canada’s geographic distances and therefore reaching large numbers of Canadians simultaneously. Advertised as a discussion group for Canadian farm families, the Farm Radio Forum was equally established to empower rural Canadians, who were particularly hard-hit by the Great Depression: the goal was to help them develop solutions to the economic challenges they faced.
Sponsored by the Canadian Association for Adult Education, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Farm Radio Forum launched in Ontario, the Maritime provinces, and English-speaking Quebec in January 1941. In the fall of 1941, the Farm Radio Forum expanded into western Canada. Farm Forum groups were organized in communities across the country, with provincial committees established to coordinate with the national office. At its peak in 1949, some 1600 groups were registered with the Farm Radio Forum, with over 21,000 individuals tuning into the weekly broadcast. The average size of a Farm Forum group was about 15-17 members, although some could be as small as 5-6 or as large as 35-40.
Farm Forum groups would typically gather at a neighbour’s home to listen to the broadcast. The Farm Radio Forum broadcast aired every Monday night from November to March. Each broadcast was 25 minutes long, followed by a 5 minute provincial newscast with a summary of local activities. The broadcasts themselves used a variety of formats, from speeches and interviews to expert discussion panels to dramatizations set on the fictional “Sunnybridge Farm.” The broadcasts addressed a wide range of topics, such as “Should Farmers Grow More?,” “Can We Pay Off Our Mortgages?,” and “The Farmer’s Image.” A Farm Forum Guide with information and articles about each topic was distributed to Farm Forum members a week in advance, so that members could study the topic before the broadcast aired. These Farm Forum Guides also provided groups with sets of questions to facilitate discussion following the broadcast – this discussion could last anywhere from 30 minutes to two or even three hours. Following the discussion, each group would report back to the Provincial Farm Forum Secretary with their conclusions, and every fourth week the radio broadcast would feature a summary of Farm Forum groups’ opinions from across the country.
According to the 1949 Farm Radio Forum Handbook, in addition to fostering educational discussion, the Farm Radio Forum increased neighbourliness, broadened members’ horizons, and even influenced public opinion. Furthermore, the problem solving ethos of the Farm Radio Forum resulted in concrete community projects. These projects varied according to local needs, and included building recreation facilities such as skating rinks and swimming pools, livestock vaccinations and disease control, road improvement, rural mail delivery, purchasing school equipment, providing school bus services, building community halls, and extending electrical and telephone service to rural homes, as well as giving donations to existing charities.
The Radio Forum model of adult education was adopted in other parts of the world in the 1950s, including India, France, and Ghana. Founded in 1979, Farm Radio International continued to carry out this type of programming and today supports farmers and rural communities in over 30 African countries.
The Farm Radio Forum resources here at the OISE Library include pamphlets, reports, programs, newsletters, correspondence, planning documents, newspaper articles, and photographs. A selection of materials will be on display in the glass table on the ground floor of the OISE Library through the summer.