That is not to say however, that I am a GOOD public speaker; only better than if I hadn't participated in 4-H. But I'm about to turn once again to those skills and put them to the test. Thursday, tomorrow I am representing the National Farmers Union to the Standing Committee on Agriculture for the House of Commons and I have been given 5 minutes to speak. Following that there is a Q&A session in which I will be asked questions from the committee. The committee has held hearings like this before, but this specific one is focusing on young farmers and why we are losing them at an amazing rate, and also unable to attract new young people to the field of agriculture. The Committee wants to know why that is and what we can do about it.
I've been agonizing over this ever since I found out that I'm doing it. I wasn't given much of a choice since I'm the only 'young' farmer in the NFU (an indicator right there of something I'm sure.), and in a way I'm sort of glad I didn't have any way of getting out of it, because I know I would have. It will be a great opportunity I'm sure, even if I do freeze up or stutter or read like a racehorse.
It took me a long time to be able to verbalize what I was wanting to say, probably because I'm so passionate about it, but I feel ok about what I have now. I think I may expand a bit more on the domestic fair trade idea, but for now, this is what I've been rehearsing. It's a bit long for a blog entry, but I figured if there are any farmers out there, they might as well know how they are being represented. Whether they like it or not, is just too bad, since I'm the one doing it! haha! Enjoy.
I’m here as a concerned young farmer and at first glance that probably appears to be my primary role. I would argue however, that my role as a mother in a farming family is perhaps more valuable in this circumstance. More so with agriculture than any other career, farming parents hope to build a legacy and a business that they can pass on to their children, in the hopes of allowing them to raise a family and a living on the land that has been so vigilantly cared for, for generations before them. Even in a growing sector like organic grains, my family is increasingly uncertain about the likelihood of having anything to pass on at all. So as a young farmer it is difficult to get excited about spending my life building a company that no one will want to take over or even buy.
As Canadians grow more and more dependent on imported, cheaply produced food, our agricultural community here at a home is taking a bigger hit every day. With truly sustainable agriculture relying on a systems approach (such as grain produced for animal feed relies on fertilizer from those animals), once one component of the cycle is gone, the entire community collapses. Unfortunately that is exactly what we’re seeing now.
Conceivably it seems that current policy would suggest getting rid of the commodities that are not making money and focus resources on those which are profitable or new. Admittedly this might seem like a wise fiscal move but is laughable in the logic of the cycle of sustainable food production. Until the recognition of the importance of every aspect of farming is accepted by everyone in positions of authority, Canadian agriculture will continue to decline at an increasing rate. This decline is directly proportional to the rate at which we will continue to lose young farmers and fail to attract new ones.
Efficiency has been the buzz word of agriculture for decades now and statistics show that farmers have risen to the challenge and in fact surpassed all expectations of efficiency, no matter how seemingly extreme they might be. Over time, farmers are able to adapt to a wide variety of market, climate and political challenges, but they can only be stretched so far. I am afraid that we have reached the breaking point.
However, very recently the NFU began working on a project to look at the development of a Domestic Fair Trade system within Canada. After a series of consultations with various stakeholders within food production (including retailers, marketers, chefs, eaters and of course, farmers) some logistics were laid out in terms of developing such a system. It was agreed that farmers are not making money for lack of it because we know that the money is within the wider system from consumer to farmer. It is being ‘allocated unfairly within the food system because of a gross economic power imbalance between farmers needing greater market power to deal with increasingly concentrated suppliers, buyers and retailers.’
There are consumers who genuinely care about the survival of the family farm in Canada and however well intentioned, simply don’t know how best to support it. A domestic fair trade system would be based on mutually beneficial relationships from the farmer receiving fair price to the consumer paying a fair price and the people in between taking a reasonable fee for distribution expenses. Using the marketing of a fairly traded product to assure consumers that they are directly supporting a farmer and not a corporation would pay dividends not only directly to Canadian agriculture, but would help to increase awareness about the importance of maintaining our own food system. Domestic fair trade would serve to create a new level of trust about the origins and safety of food, building long term relationships based on respect and confidence between consumers and producers.
If Canadian agriculture cannot create an enduring connection with Canadians our agricultural sector is doomed from the start. A domestic fair trade system would begin to create a link between consumers and where their food comes from, ensuring a strong market for Canadian agricultural products right here at home.
There are very few who would argue that life on the farm is an ideal place to raise a family, live a healthy, quality life, producing food for oneself and others. Through farm tours and school visits, many farmers will tell you that there is a genuine interest in many kids to know more, spend more time and consider a lifetime of farming. The point at which these dreams die is most likely around the time that the value of a dollar kicks in, and the headlines regarding entire agricultural commodities falling away takes centre stage. When there are so many opportunities for young people today, weighing the options between a well paying job and a non-paying job is not a difficult choice. The simple fact of the matter is that farmers are not getting paid, so it is inevitable that there is no one to continue the legacy of food production in Canada.