Gone are the days when a farmer anywhere in Canada could be pretty sure that there would be a crop to be harvested, even when that farmer planted several types of crops which provide diversity as a way to cope with uncertain weather conditions.
By Colleen Ross, VP of National Farmers Union
Food prices in the grocery stores are on the increase. Rumours of global food shortages abound. Fuel prices are skyrocketing, as are all products that rely on fossil fuels for manufacturing or transportation, including most farm inputs such as diesel fuel, chemicals and fertilizers. Very soon, it may not be an option to find a farmer and buy your food directly from her or him. Meanwhile, the crisis in Japan and the resulting nuclear fallout is destroying the land and livelihood of Japanese farmers. It is a disaster for Japan, and all the world is concerned. Almost daily, there are tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, oil spills and other man-made and natural disasters occurring around the globe, affecting food production and international food trade.
Climate change is a reality, with unpredictable and often violent weather patterns wreaking havoc. Gone are the days when a farmer anywhere in Canada could be pretty sure that there would be a crop to be harvested, even when that farmer planted several types of crops which provide diversity as a way to cope with uncertain weather conditions. This is no longer the case — often farmers lose entire harvests due to rain, premature freezing or drought.
Canada is food insecure.
Over the past 2-3 decades it has become increasingly difficult for farmers to withstand bad years. Off farm jobs and increasing farm debt has taken its toll on Canadian farmers, hence today farmers make up less than 2% of the population. Farmers have indeed become an endangered species. Although farms have become bigger, so has the equipment. The costs associated with farming larger acreages can no longer be justified by “economies of scale.”
There are obvious — but not so easy solutions: get more people to farm and rebuild the local infrastructure that once existed in rural communities in order to produce our food close to home. Other solutions may include creating more reasonable regulations that would allow small scale processors and abattoirs to function instead of them being subject to regulations designed for huge factories making it virtually impossible for local family-run businesses to survive.
Farmers that have embraced monoculture production models must begin to relearn how to produce food with fewer chemical inputs, and move towards more biodiverse, ecologically sound production practices. Consumers may want to begin to examine their own food choices — shopping more intentionally by choosing Grown in Canada, shopping at farmers markets, or buying directly from the farm, joining a Community Supported Agriculture program. These are just some of the easy steps folks can take to support local agriculture.
On April 18th, 2011 Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada was released. The recommendations were developed with the participation of over 3500 Canadians, and are aimed at rebuilding our broken food and farming system in Canada while preparing us for an uncertain economic, climatic and political future. Food-related health issues, protection of agriculture land from urban and industrial development and preventing farmland ownership by overseas investors would be just some of the issues that would be addressed by adopting this policy direction. The report was endorsed by the National Farmers Union of Canada, with many of our own members contributing policy ideas based on their own experience and knowledge.
The 32-page paper is a great start to begin to prepare the first real food policy in Canada that would ensure that all people are cared for, including our farmers. Currently most federal and provincial agriculture policy supports more globalized trade and the proliferation of technologies such as genetically modified organisms. Yet, across Canada many progressive farmers and consumers are already are transforming our food system. But, we need policy to support our efforts, rather than undermine them. As you go to the polls, vote with your fork. Examine each party platform and make sure that your candidate of choice has a plan in place to restore and protect our food system in Canada.
Colleen Ross owns the farm Waratah Downs near Iroquois, Ontario.
The Peoples Food Policy can be found at http://www.peoplesfoodpolicy.ca/