I was raised in Prince Edward County on a small mixed farm. I loved the animals, the freedom, the pony I had and the miles we traveled together, the chance to drive the tractor and going for walks across the fields and into the woods with Dad. Like most children, I complained when I was told to weed the garden or help in the tomato field, doing most chores was something to drag your heels about. Working with the livestock and doing the barn chores though, was better than garden duty any day. In fact my childhood was similar to everyone’s around me. Most of us grew up on working farms. Time and dare I suggest, maturity has allowed me to appreciate my upbringing.
I grew up knowing farms. I knew that what you grew or raised was often what you ate. When I turned 13, I was old enough to work part-time on my cousins’ farm and help to prepare their canning factory for the fall packing season. Everyone grew and or preserved at least some of their family’s food supply. There was no doubt where it came from, no question of how it was grown or treated. You just knew. And if you did not grow it, you probably bought some it from a neighbouring farm. I don’t mean to suggest that our little island was so backwater that we did not shop at the local grocery stores, but most people had an innate understanding of the connection between the land and feeding their family.
Now fast forward to present day. Who is growing what we eat? Do you know where your food came from? Or how it was grown? Or how the animals were treated? Then again, did you realize the steak in plastic wrap sitting on the sterile styrofoam tray actually came from an animal? In the past few years, food, toys, even pet-food have been contaminated by unsafe products that have entered manufacturing systems in places lacking Canadian quality standards. We have also seen large problems in vast corporations such that when a problem occurs, the scale is so magnified that the effect is felt across the nation.
It is now popular to talk about buying local. We are encouraged to get to know your farm producer. I am in favour of this. It has become a popular by-line, which should be second to the fact; society needs to understand the connection between the food on their plate and the land. I believe this means we need to think about our food supply chain; we need to think about what happens as we lose land to yet another housing or business development; we need to ask where is the next-generation of farmer is going to come from?
If you think the food on your dinner table comes from the local grocery store – you are probably correct. But have you thought about the long line of people that grew the crop, or process and ship it? Do you think about the final preparation of the item before it arrives on your plate?
I often wonder, as our society grows away from the land, who will value those of us who want to farm and care for the land. Some of us want to be stewards of the land and make a living doing so. Many farmers have to supplement the farm income with off-farm work. I often said that I worked to support my habit. It now falls to my husband to support "my habit". The farm habit, that is. The call of the land, the need to produce something of value is so strong… I can not deny the pull – to do so gives up my heritage and my core values.
This becomes the perfect time for us to think about making changes. Global warming and increasing fuel costs will help to drive the “buy local” campaign. The 100 mile diet is talked about as if it is a rare and almost difficult thing to do. It may be difficult, perhaps not even 100% attainable, especially if you enjoy oranges and bananas. But we can feed ourselves from close at hand if we make a conscious choice. My husband and I like the fact that we grow much of the food served on our table. We raise the livestock. We know what has gone into the food on our plate. We are now finding more people who want to know how the food on their plate was grown or raised – it matters to them. I feel reassured that society will recognize and value the local farm producer. Perhaps the small farm will still have a place in the Canadian landscape.