While away in Prince Edward County, FuBu found a magazine called The Walrus at the library. He was showing me an article about Chinese food – his great love. After reading it, I noticed the cover story called “The Farms Are Not All Right”. Intrigued after my viewing of Food Inc. a few months ago, I became engrossed in the story by Chris Turner.
Most enlightening for me was the disspelling of the stereotype of a farmer being an unintelligent and simple-minded redneck, as portrayed in the 70s variety sitcom “Hee Haw”. Turner visited a farm run by a gentleman who was effectively an engineer/meteorologist/business analyst/day trader, and who could probably run a national corporation better than any CEO. It’s the reality of farming in the twenty-first century: you have to have a big business mentality or you will quickly perish. Just like any business today, you have to be bigger, better and faster.
I guess until you live a day in a farmer’s shoes – or you read this great article by Turner – you cannot have an appreciation for the incredible pressures they are under today. Never mind the games Mother Nature is playing on them. They are competing with multinational corporations that have conglomerated farming operations, and who are squeezing every possible penny out of the farmers. And then urbanites in particular feel they have the right to demand organic, and act all righteous about “buying local, supporting sustainable agriculture”. The rate at which farmers are forced to compete today is not sustainable, and the requirements for certified organic farming will kill them even more quickly. Turner sums it up nicely:
“But even as food security, safety, and health have risen on the public agenda, the conversation has focused entirely too much on the contradictory lines of what we want — more local, fewer chemicals, more options, greater convenience — and far too little on how to get it. We don’t talk about whose job it is to provide it, how they should be compensated, and, in particular, how to close what turns out to be a yawning gap between our needs as consumers, at one end of the supply chain, and theirs as farmers at the other.”
While in PEC, we stopped to talk to a cattle and corn farmer while taking a break from a bike ride. His family owned a significant swath of the surrounding land, most of it to grown corn. I didn’t ask but I suspect this is more profitable than cattle breeding since it must be less labour-intensive, and because of the demand for corn as not just feed, but as a source of energy (interesting fact from Scientific American: more corn is used for fuel production than for feed). Who can blame him? He’s got to survive. So what right do we have to ask him to raise more grass-fed cows?
And the last word from Turner:
“…we all owe Canadian farmers — a great debt of gratitude for doing a vital, literally life-giving job few of us are willing to do for ourselves.”
Read the story – you’ll learn a lot. And then visit a farm and say thanks. The Walrus is an excellent publication, by the way; I’ve become a big fan.