Importance of Family Farms in Canada

By Kathleen Skinner

When my geography teacher posed a question along the lines of “why should we work to preserve our local farms when there will always be other places to get our food from”, I had to make an argument. My one goal that day was to prove to my teacher, and others with a similar mind set, that family farms in rural communities are important.

One factor that often set family farms ahead of other food producers is their care for the environment. Small farms are more likely to work at being stewards of the land, with a common goal of sustaining the land for future generations. Farmers see their farm in a personal way, caring for it much like it was part of them. Family farms are closely connected with their communities and their neighbours; consequently they are more inclined to use sustainable farming techniques that preserve resources and the health of the community. On the flip side of this situation, industrial farms work to capitalize both cost and products. As a result, the environment can be left to deal with excessive chemical sprays, fumes or manure.

Family farms are the centre of many rural communities and play a vital role in sustaining the local economy. Recently, we travelled to Newfoundland and saw a parallel to farming in the fishing industry. For over 400 years, the maritime provinces had booming fisheries. Many outport towns were developed and settled on the strength of the cod fishery. However, when the cod moratorium took effect in 1992, thousands were out of work, and the most prominent natural resource driving these small towns was immediately extinguished. When the fishermen lost work and had to travel elsewhere for employment, the merchants, teachers, and various other occupations felt the toll of their absence. Farming is not immune from similar effects. Family farms provide work for people in the community, in addition to spending money back into the local economy. I have watched my dad buy his feed from a local supplier, get his farm truck fixed by our neighbours, and locate local repairmen. Just one farmer provides business for multiple enterprises; in essence, they are the heart of a rural community. A large scale farm covering thousands of acres is another option for local food production, but very little money is put back into the local economy as a result of these farms employing few workers and purchasing their supplies from commercial sources. The final option for food production is importing, which supports no local development or economy whatsoever. Thus, family farms are the most optimal food production source for our country, and are vital to the economy of rural communities.

The diminishing number of family farms is having a slow, but obvious effect on the awareness of adults and children alike with respect to the food they eat. Years ago, a large majority of people lived on farms or in a farming area. In modern days, however, the population balance has tipped to city dwellers. When looking at a dinner plate, one may not make the connection between that pork chop and the work that was put into it at the farm, and many don=t think that this connection is important. However, consider the mentality of many people eating this food. A vast number of people take the food they consume for granted; the super markets will always be stocked with every need. Recently, I have met new peers, who seem to have no concept of where their food comes from. I was shocked to find out that a fellow teenager was clueless to the fact that turkey farms exist! Where did that drumstick come from? The lack of connection between food and farm clouds respect for not only the farmers that produce the bounty, but the land that makes its all possible. In addition, many do not see the correlation between the land needed for farming and the food; the result being thousands of acres of prime farm land being transformed into cities and suburbs. Furthermore, the general public is incapable of supporting themselves. This may not be an issue at the present time, but it certainly would be if somehow our outside food supply was cut off. Imagine the chaos that would come when people could not find everything they needed in a store. The idea of being self-sufficient is slowly dwindling to extinction, especially in cities, and people have no idea how to create their own food supply. Family farming can aid in a person=s ability to understand where the food comes from, and in turn support oneself, whether it be through gardening or raising animals or preserving fruits and vegetables. In conclusion, family farms can help to educate individuals and make people more aware of their food source.

Perhaps the most important aspect of family farming goes beyond the environment, supporting the local economy or enhancing knowledge about food. It is in the values learned by the family members themselves. Take learning to work for example. Occasionally, I look with envy at the Atown kids,@who have never experienced waking up at seven to get the chores done before church. However, this work has taught me discipline and I can look at how far my skills in the barn have come over the years; each new duty I take on comes with a sense of accomplishment. Moreover, I have learned to work as a team member, to do my part so that the family succeeds. I have learned patience when tempers start to flare over stubborn animals that will not move. I have learned to pitch in and help when another family member is sick. Finally, working on my family farm has taught me that everything we do, whether it be a small job or big, is important to the function of the business as a whole. And, hopefully, when all play their part, there is success at the end to enjoy. To sum it all up, skills and values learned on the family farm are unquantifiable, and, as we have seen, these farms give beyond themselves to the environment, the economy and in education. What better model is there for successful agriculture in Canada?

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