Updated: Nov 23
“You don’t have to come from agriculture to be in agriculture,” says Debra McLennan, registered dietitian and food and nutrition coordinator at Alberta Pulse Growers. In this Faces of Agriculture feature, Debra McLennan talks about her career journey and how she stepped into STEM.
Connecting people to their food can be a challenge in a world where most consumers are generations removed from agriculture. Debra McLennan, a registered dietitian and food and nutrition coordinator with Alberta Pulse Growers, has made it her mission to bridge the gap between consumers and the agriculture industry through the world of pulses.
But before joining Alberta Pulse Growers, McLennan had a very distant relationship to agriculture. While McLennan’s mom grew up on a farm in northern Saskatchewan, she moved to the city after graduating nursing school, and McLennan was born a generation removed from agriculture. When McLennan graduated from the University of Alberta, she worked as a clinical dietitian at hospitals and long-term care centres.
“I had very little background or connection to farming or agriculture until I started working for Alberta Pulse Growers,” says McLennan.
With Alberta Pulse Growers, McLennan’s role is to inform consumers about pulse crops, the dry, edible seeds of plants from the legume family. She coordinates and engages with all kinds of audiences, such as healthcare professionals, teachers, chefs, and students to promote Alberta’s pulse industry—and even though McLennan didn’t originally have a connection to agriculture, this brought a different outlook to her role.
“It is interesting, because I think people think you have to come from agriculture to work in agriculture . . . But not having that background in agriculture and the role that I do now, I bring that perspective of not knowing or not being connected to the farm,” says McLennan.
“We're always trying to connect to consumers—I can really relate to consumers who have questions about agriculture, don't understand where their food comes from, or haven't spent any time on the farm.”
Since 2015, McLennan has been connecting people to Alberta’s pulse industry by teaching them about the nutritional value and environmental benefits of these crops. She kicked off her career at Alberta Pulse Growers with Mission Impulseible, a competition that challenged post-secondary students to create recipes with pulses as the key ingredient.
“Our vision is pulses on every farm, on every plate—and I'm on the ‘on every plate’ side of that.”
McLennan then worked on 2016’s International Year of Pulses, continuing to teach the value of pulses.
“It was a global phenomenon, and Alberta Pulse Growers wanted to have somebody with a nutrition background and knowledge of pulses to be able to bring together those programs. And for Alberta to be able to participate in it,” says McLennan.
As Albertans become more aware of pulses, McLennan has noticed a new obstacle arising. With fast-paced information sharing through social media, consumers often find themselves navigating through an overwhelming amount of information—sometimes it can be difficult to parse out fact from misinformation.
“There's so much out there now with social media and influencers. There’s different avenues to share all that information. And with the volume of information, it’s hard trying to stay on top of everything,” says McLennan.
As a dietitian, McLennan found this to be one of the biggest challenges when teaching about pulses and nutrition.
“I can see from a consumer perspective—it can be challenging for them and confusing. I really try to bring the nutritional knowledge that I have, as it relates to pulses, in a way that’s very practical, down to earth, and helps people understand,” says McLennan.
For McLennan, the best way to help people understand the message is to not overcomplicate it.
“You have to meet your audience where they are and sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer,” says McLennan.
“Sometimes it's just as simple as pulses are a great source of plant-based protein and fibre, an excellent source of iron and folate and an environmentally friendly crop.”
This Faces of Agriculture profile highlights Debra McLennan, who is also a feature speaker for Agriculture for Life's Feed Your Future (FYF) 2023. In McLennan’s speaker video, she dives deeper into how she got started in agriculture and her role at Alberta Pulse Growers. For McLennan’s full FYF profile, follow this link!
Feed Your Future is an exciting virtual event presented by Agriculture for Life. The goal is to reach young urban and rural women of all backgrounds with an interest in agriculture and the agri-food industry as a potential STEM career pathway, showcasing ways to advance in education, opportunities for networking, professional development, mentorship, and collaboration.
Step into a career in agriculture and STEM. There's a fit for everyone!