Who will grow our food?
I’ve been thinking some lately about labour on farms. Migrant labour carries high social and not insignificant environmental costs, and after reading this article that mentions how some migrant workers in the US have taken on farming as entrepreneurs, I was reminded how this labour force is not necessarily sustainable. What about the reliance of Ontario farms on migrant labour? I have met some small-scale organic growers who also depend on this vulnerable work force. Here at the farm we recently discussed a subsidized wage to allow farmers to hire local folks. Durham region subsidizes on farm child-care, why not a province-wide subsidy to help farmers hire locally? But no-one wants to work on farms, you say? Keep reading.This led me to thinking how farming is not perceived as a viable option. One of the reasons given to cut prison farms was that “farming is not a viable income”: why teach prisoners skills that won’t get them a job after they leave?
So who will grow our food? If there was more programming to ensure that children were exposed to agriculture, at different stages in their education, you might just get some kids excited to do just that: farm. I’m working on a list of educational programming in agriculture, drawing from whatever and wherever. I would love it if you sent me the names or descriptions of programs that you’ve participated in, helped run, or heard about. I do love lists, especially when they translate into action. Not everyone should aim to have an MBA, or be a doctor or lawyer, or whatever other career you want to hold up on a pedestal. One of my favourite activities when I was an ESL teacher was to ask students to name the careers that are the most highly paid in their home country. It’s more interesting when you have lots of diverse nations. Lawyer, government official often rank at the top. Then ask them to list the ones that are most valuable to society. Farming often, if not always, comes out on top. Farming is not just physical labour, although that is a significant part of it. Farming is indeed hard work, but it is also invigorating, mentally stimulating (problem solving, improving production and increasing efficiency among other feats), and deeply satisfying. There is some romanticism about the bucolic country life, but a few months of physical exhaustion and some dead livestock and or insect/disease-ravaged crops thrown in for good measure might weed out the idealists, or at least help them revise their goals.
Oh, and incubator farms, and the need for more in Ontario. I was reading a report that Metro Vancouver put out on starting an incubator farm in the Colony Farm Regional Park, and it seems the standard lot size for one’s first year of production is 1/4 acre, which is fine if you’re producing veggies, and it’s fantastic that we have these resources for growers. For a dairy producer, you would need more land, unless you were just processing the milk. It actually doesn’t seem feasible to incubate a small-scale dairy, and I’m sure there are people out there who will argue it’s just not necessary. Barns (which can harbour bacteria and disease for decades) require time (or the community effort of a good old-fashioned barn raising) and raw materials to construct. And you would need different facilities for cows, and goats and sheep. Milking parlours and make rooms and the equipment within come at a high price. Or what about a dairy farm that is part of the CRAFT network that also incubates aspiring producers? I know Mapleton’s does, but I think that’s it. It’s indeed on my list of future goals, as well as encouraging other farms to join the CRAFT network.
Yesterday I visited the first co-operative farm auction in Ontario, the Kawartha Lakes Co-operative Auction Market (Inc.). We took three of the kids, as well as Juliette, a two-year old doe. That means just two kids remain, as we lost one of the triplets recently. It is likely there is Johne’s (pr. yo-knees, aka paratuberculosis) in the herd, a fatal gastrointestinal disease casued by Mycobacterium avium ss Paratuberculosis (MAP), which some suspect to cause Crohn’s. It is easily identified by an inability to gain weight (in kids) or rapid weight loss (in adults). On the way back, we discussed how small slaughterhouses are getting pushed out by the big guys. What about mobile slaughterhouses, co-ops, or community supported slaughterhouses?
And just in case you haven’t seen it yet, To Make a Farm (dir. Steve Suderman), is a documentary about five young farmers in their first year of production. You can watch it here, on TVO. It is a personal and philosophical take on why these folks got into farming, which doesn’t leave much room for technicalities. I liked that about it, and the cinematography was beautiful. It was realistic, not romanticising what can go wrong in the season, but optimistic, sharing the farmers’ passion and commitment.
I’m also really excited about the upcoming urban agriculture summit in Toronto. There’s lots more to dig up on the urban/rural divide, and how urban and rural communities can support each other in increasing sustainable food production.
Oh, and foodshed mapping tools! So many more things to get excited about, including this opportunity at the next Guelph Organic Conference. I’ve already started the joyful process of gathering information on small-scale dairies in Canada. Yes, I know it’s early. If you were attending this, what would you like to get from it? Let me know.
Oh, and some photos, ones I probably should have included in my last post. Ten minutes of moderate rain last night, and another few of a downpour today have provided some respite, but I think my next post may have to be about drought contingency plans.