The National Farmers Union (NFU) would like to congratulate Nikaela Lange and Kevin Morin, who were the winners of the Beingessner Award for Excellence in Writing.
Nikaela is 18 years old and from Dalmeny, Saskatchewan. Nikaela spent part of her Grade 11 year studying in Tokyo, Japan. Later that same year, she received the Global Citizens Scholarship, and was one of a 12-student delegation that went to Europe to participate in a Leadership and Innovation Summit. She is currently in her first year at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon majoring in International Studies.
Kevin is a graduate of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. He spent last summer working at Tourne-Sol Cooperative farm and is in the process of starting his own farm in the Outaouais. In the off season, he travels to Arroyo Seco, NM acting as a garden educator for the Snow Mansion’s School of Life.
Dear Canada, An Open Letter by Nikaela Lange,
I’m sorry we broke your land. I’m sorry corporate greed exhausts your soil, pollutes your air, dirties your water, treats your animals like cogs in a machine. I’m sorry we expend your every resource in sight and only expect you to produce more, more, more. I’m sorry we’ve gone from the practice of wholesome family farming to steel caged production for a demand that just won’t end. I’m sorry we may not see the error in our ways until it’s too late.
I’m sorry the days of family farming seem to be behind us. It seems the image of the farmer in the straw hat and overalls, growing food for his community, no longer applies. It’s been overthrown by animals locked in too tiny cages, stewing in their waste, waiting for slaughter. Replaced by harmful pesticides, imported goods, and so called “organic” foods with impossible to pronounce ingredients. Infiltrated by a corporate hand, taking over the land, mass producing food, daring small scale farmers to compete. I’m sorry you went from a bountiful, promising and beautiful land to merely a tool of production. I’m sorry your sprawling and plentiful prairies were seen as nothing more than space for another industrial farm, another factory twisting your purpose to meet its insatiable needs. I’m sorry this has been our recent past, and unfortunately, our present.
I’m sorry we seem to have a broken system, but I don’t believe it’s beyond repair. Many Canadians can see past the seemingly perfect, mass produced, industrial system, and long to fix it. Many of us share a vision to not only change the ways of our agricultural industry, but make sustainable improvements. A vision to take back your land from the greedy hands that snatched it up and give it back to those who truly love it. Return to the ways of diversified, family run farming, which we’ve seen to be more resilient and bountiful time and time again. To make farmers’ markets the norm, rather than the exception. Provide communities with locally grown food at reasonable prices, while also ensuring family farmers get fair pay for the work they diligently put into our land. To feed not only ourselves, but continue to be large players in the world market, feeding the world’s growing population as well. To aim to not merely sustain the world’s environmental quality, but actively seeking to improve and repair it. But, as many dreams are, these ideas are worthless without a plan to put them in place.
So, what can we do to make this vision for your land a reality? Firstly, we must start with an education. Teach the people of your land about all the ways you are being destroyed. Teach them about how buying locally, while expensive, will contribute to the local economy and over time become more affordable. Teach about pollution, climate change, urban sprawl. Teach them why we need to support our local family farmers to end the reign of the corporate hand and go back to the basics. Teach an appreciation for your land. With this education will hopefully come action, and with this action, change.
Dear Canada, I’m sorry we broke your land. I hope you will soon be healed again.
I’ll end this letter with a quote from Canadian poet Brian Brett, more relevant now than ever.
“Farming is a profession of hope”
My Future Vision for Canada’s Farming and Food System by Kevin Morin
While talking about backyard cereal breeding, an old Cape Breton farmer once told me that the agriculture there was so far back that now they’re ahead. And if you were to have a cereal killer oatmeal stout from the Island’s own Big Spruce Brewing, you may be inclined to believe that.
I dream of a farm of my own someday, cows in the pasture, neat rows of cabbage…. Think of the rainy days spent in the woodshop, the brisk November mornings crouching in the greenhouse, a woodlot to keep me busy over winter and spring. To farm such a mixed enterprise like that of our grandparents is no romance.
While many would call a small scale approach to agriculture backwards, I prefer to think that it is the small, local producer who will lead our agricultural future. The trend of going big or going home has led to a precipitous drop in the number of farmers in our country. What first generation farmer can afford a barn big enough to put a modern combine in? Or find the labour to pick those countless rows of cabbage? The modern saying about dairy farming comes to mind: if you have enough money to get into it, you have enough money to stay out of it. 30 years ago there were 20 farms on this road. Because of this mentality, today, there are two. I’m worried about the future of farming in Canada. Who will I share machinery with and depend on when need be? Who will my children play with? Or how long will their bus ride be to school? Will I have to drive further and further to sell my produce?
As a teenager, I was typical of my generation: two generations from the land and one from the kitchen. Two working parents meant for quick meals and the extent of my cooking was directions off of a pizza box. I came to agriculture after reminiscing over childhood summers spent on the now defunct family farm. More strawberries and raspberries than I could ever eat, broccoli that my 10-year old self actually liked and a woodstove that made very good toast. This agro-inspiration was not a godsend or serendipitous, just an attention to the superior quality of fresh food. And frankly, outside of necessity, I think that having people taste the difference is the only way that we will embody the food and farming system of the future that I dream of.
Arriving in India in my mid twenties on a funded project for my Master’s research, I was puzzled to find so much pollution and poverty in a country that the English Empire once considered the ‘richest country in the world’. It is said that the wealth it once knew came from village-level economies. Craftsmanship then was extremely skilled; garments were able to be made thin enough that an entire full sized shawl could be folded to fit into a matchbox. To compare the merchandise today to these tales is to question whether all our “development” is indeed beneficial.
It has become difficult for us to imagine a society in which global capitalism does not play a central role; a pure market economy. It is easy to forget that it is only in the past 100 years that it has taken a central role. No society, ever, has been managed in such a way. I doubt that an agriculture that is genuinely ecological, productive and accessible to everyone is possible within our current confines where the majority of the world’s strongest economic entities are corporations, not countries. Though I am convinced with steady steps and honest work, that the future of Canada’s agriculture can be reinvigorated so that folks are motivated to live in a rural setting, knowing that they can gain a healthy honest living, much like their families once did there.
My vision for Canada’s future food and farming systems is one where people know their local cattle breeds as they would know grape varieties, where a microbrew from 100 km away is considered an import. It’s one in which the local high school guidance councillor recognizes that farming can be a healthy and viable career choice. Where a diversity of local farms are competitive on the world market, that innovate according to their local region and bring about a local pride that fuels environmental stewardship.
Much like that oatmeal stout or the shawl thinner than paper, there are some things that are only possible at village-level economies. I would like to see a future Canadian farming system that facilitates me feeding my neighbors and that collaborates towards the decommodification of food and seed, to a place where taste, and trust prevail over the dollar.