I'm a Farmer

Being a farmer in Canada isn't an easy task. We're at the mercy of the weather and we're assaulted at all angles from consumers and the media.

I like growing plants. I don't think there's a farmer out there who doesn't like growing plants or raising animals. I'm sure there's very few farmers out there being a farmer for economic reasons alone. The odds are stacked up again us growers from nearly every angle and farmers as a whole deserve far more respect than they get.

The first problem farmers get is a false stereotype derived from the media. More than once, I've had somebody come to me stating they would not buy any products because I have used pesticides. They call my food unsafe. Does anybody really believe the food farmers grow is unsafe? Farmers don't want to use pesticides, they need to in order to survive. After all, at the end of the day, farmers need to make a living, too.

Us farmers are responsible people. We care about our environment and don't want to needlessly use pesticides. Many farmers have changed their cultural practises in order to reduce pesticide use, but that fact has been pushed to the wayside. Not only have many farmers reduced their pesticide usage, newer pesticides are safer than ever. They did a survey not long ago and found the rural population ate better than the urban population. Saying that the food Canadian farmers grow is not safe is a comment founded on nothing more than ignorance.

The global economy has given consumers many options, but it has also threatened the survival of farmers. A few years ago, there was bumper crop of cantaloupes. Our local Ottawa-grown melons were absolutely amazing. They were large, sweet, plentiful - just the best melons I have seen in years. And the sad part of that year? Every single visit I paid to a grocery store that month when melons where in their peak, there was not one "Product of Ontario" cantaloupe to be seen. Not a single one. Even some of the stores that pride themselves on supporting the local farmers only had a token few, if any. To me, that's pathetic. We had the best melons I ever recall grown right here, but the price was better importing them from other countries so nobody got to enjoy them.

Speaking of retailers, farmers typically aren't retailers. They have more to worry about in their fields than standing around selling their products. Taking the time to prepare small-harvests and bring them to market, or have consumers come to their field is a limited market. I'm happy to see farmers markets finally being more supported, but that's only a drop in the bucket.

The major supermarket outlets are the most guilty of hurting farmers. We used to wholesale pie-pumpkins to large supermarkets and traditionally got a fair price. A few years back, pie pumpkin season was approaching and we contacted stores. We were offered 30% of last years prices. As we all know, fuel prices and labour costs don't drop, but we are only offered 30% of our previous years prices. We did the math and we let our pie pumpkins rot in the field. The cost of harvesting and delivering pumpkins was greater than what we were offered for them.

The wholesale price of sweet corn hasn't changed in nearly 20 years, though it's far more expensive to grow corn than it was 20 years ago. The cost of the corn used in a box of Corn Flakes has risen 6 cents in the last 20 years. Has the retail price reflected this? A number of farmers, including ourselves, have made the choice not to grow sweet corn any longer because of this. The consequence - far fewer people really know the taste of fresh sweet corn. Instead, they settle for store-bought corn. The answer - buy corn from a road-side stand so you get fresh corn, even if it costs more than in the supermarket.

One time we shipped a few hundred cantaloupes to a retail store. A bag of hybrid cantaloupe/honeydew melons got mixed in the shipment accidentally. As a "penalty", the store sold all the hundreds of melons at a discounted price, but refused to pay us. A quick phone call and we would have happily rectified the problem, but instead the product was sold to the public, but us as the grower got nothing. These unfair practises are not all that rare.

Think back to when Mad Cow Disease became a big scare. There were a handful of cases in the county (you could count them on one hand). Because of this scare, many farmers couldn't sell their cows or beef. The price of beef plummeted so low many farmers couldn't even pay for the food to raise their cattle. But do you remember the price of beef or steaks in the store ever dropping? Nope. At least I sure don't. Farmers were hurt by the low price of beef. Consumers didn't benefit anything since nothing changed. Only the mass-retailers and processors gained.

So why do North American Farmers have such a hard time? It's a simple answer. North America has never gone hungry. We've never had a war in our own land that threatened our ability to produce food. Nearly every other part of the world has suffered some sort of a lack of food, but not in North America. We take our food for granted. After all, less than 1% of the population grows the food for the entire world. Politically speaking, 1% of votes isn't taken seriously in North America.

I eat the food I grow. I'm a strawberry snob and won't even eat a strawberry if it's not in-season or from our own field. I'm happy to go to the butcher and pay more for local meat. I'll look for Ontario Grown fruits and vegetables over foreign grown foods. And I will never buy any fruits or vegetables from another country if it's in-season locally. I am a farmer and proud of it.

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