Crystal Mackay connects producers, consumers and the greater ag industry.
By Stefanie Croley
Crystal Mackay is a communications guru with a long-spanning career in agriculture, beginning with the Ontario Farm Animal Council before founding Farm and Food Care and the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity. Mackay, together with Maggie Van Camp, launched Loft32 in 2019 as a means of creating more connections between producers, consumers and the greater ag industry. Stefanie Croley, editorial director, agriculture, spoke with Mackay about conquering critics, taking risks and why collaboration will be more necessary than ever in the future.
What’s your background in agriculture and how did you get into your current role?
My whole career can be summed up as working to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers. From a young age, I started doing producer to consumer education and that’s where my passion has always been. I got my roots in communications with real people, having real conversations at the Ontario Farm Animal Council.
At Ontario Pork, I created a new role that mixed producer and consumer relations. It really fostered what I love to do – working with farmers and helping them become better communicators, which I still do today, and bridging the gap to the consumers. I went back to the Ontario Farm Animal Council as the executive director, and in a leadership capacity there formed the roots of the Farm and Food Care movement.
The next level was to take that nationally, to help create the Farm and Food Care model in other provinces, and I was the founding CEO of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity before I stepped down in 2019 to create Loft32.
What made you jump into starting Loft32?
Loft32 is a new business model. It’s really a talent stable of good people, with a focus on things in common, such as love for agriculture and food. I spent a lot of time thinking about the future and my time, and my co-founder Maggie Van Camp and I approached it as a problem-solving exercise. What are the problems in agriculture that we could help solve? What are our skill sets? And quite frankly, what do I have fun doing? Having fun has always been a really important part of all of my jobs. I’ve dealt with some tough issues but I’ve always surrounded myself with good people and managed to take my job seriously without taking myself too seriously.
Can you share a challenge you’ve experienced that really sticks out in your mind?
In the early days of my career, I spent a lot of time dealing with critics – activist groups who oppose farming specifically – and really developed a lot of subject-matter knowledge around that area. It’s a serious issue, and it subsides and raises its head again, depending on the day and the issue and the groups. There will always be critics of our industry. We’re feeding everybody, whether it’s with tofu or chicken – everybody has to eat. There’s always a need to defend and protect, but that’s not my purpose. I’m mature enough to agree to disagree and say, “Can I help you make a more informed decision?”
What keeps you excited about your role in agriculture and just about agriculture in general?
Good people that like to have fun are my particular kind of people – that includes my colleagues and those I work with on projects. Within the industry itself, feeding people is amazing. Sometimes in agriculture, we forget that we’re in the business of feeding people, regardless of what your role is. I also feel the industry is very humble – we do a really great job of feeding people, but we do a lousy job of talking about it, and we’re getting better. And that excites me.