Publications

Union Farmer Quarterly:

Winter 2021

In this Issue of Quarterly:

 

A Message from Julia Smith, Rancher, President of Small Scale Meat Producers Association of BC and VP-Policy for the NFU

A New Year and a new Vice President! I’d like to welcome you to the winter edition of the NFU quarterly and take this opportunity to introduce myself.

I don’t come from a long line of farmers or ranchers, but I did get my start in agriculture early, in a round-about way. I was a pony club kid so when I wasn’t in school, I was usually at the barn. I grew up doing barn chores and haying in spite of an otherwise very “un-farmy” upbringing in Oakville, Ontario. Some of my most valuable life lessons came from these experiences but it wouldn’t be until many years later that I would return to my unlikely agricultural roots.

I moved to British Columbia in the early 90’s after a brief stint in England doing horsey things and for the next 20 years or so my life was about raising babies, climbing mountains and entrepreneurship. When I found myself a single parent in the early 2000’s, I decided to make some changes and went back to school where I came perilously close to becoming a geologist (in hopes of getting paid to go rock climbing, you see). I was derailed, however by a directed study course I took through the University of British Columbia’s Farm in Permaculture Design. I was passionate about earth science but quite disenchanted by the prospect of a career in an industry which was misaligned with my personal values. Regenerative agriculture stole my heart. My academic goals were further derailed when my new partner and I applied to, and were accepted into a farming program that provided us with a bit of land, mentorship, training and support. I tried to juggle farming and university for a while but farming won out.

Now, I raise an endangered breed of hogs called Red Wattle and find myself back in the saddle, cowboying on the rangeland which surrounds our farm in British Columbia’s Nicola Valley. After a few years of working for other ranchers and learning the cattle business, we purchased our own herd this year and are cautiously optimistic about diversifying our product line.

I joined the NFU a few years ago because I was so impressed by and appreciative of the work this organization was doing to advocate for our industry. I joined the livestock committee last year in hopes of helping to find a path to growth for small-scale meat producers. I am also the President of BC’s Small-Scale Meat Producer’s Association (SSMPA), so I am very much entrenched in this fight. Last November, soon after we had just hired our first Executive Director, I learned about the potential for me to take on the VP Policy position. With help in place for the SSMPA work, I had a somewhat delusional conviction that I now had more time. After discussing the idea with Coral, I agreed the position did sound very interesting and was seduced by the thought of basically taking a free, one-year course in Canadian agricultural policy.

So here I am, overwhelmed and humbled but keen and eager to serve. I very much look forward to getting to know more of you and your stories this year. Thank you for this opportunity.

 

A Message from Katie Ward, NFU National President

The NFU has a very solid foundation of principles, based on our Statement of Purpose, upon which to base our actions, an asset we had unusual reasons to appreciate over the past year. When you have solid ground under your feet, it is easier to pivot and shift approaches while still maintaining your centre of gravity. 

One core principle is our belief in and work toward achieving economic dignity for farmers. It’s a thread that runs through our original mandate, and is still relevant to a wide swath of current issues. The dominant system which campaigns for financial incentives from government in  favour of high-input agriculture basically funnels money through farmers to the transnational conglomerates supplying those inputs. Farmers participating in this system gain little to no financial reward but eventually find the promise of prosperity has not materialized while  the agricultural sector’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions have massively increased along the way. 

Constant, exponential growth is no longer an option. While this remains the dominant paradigm, we must work as an organization to educate and agitate for a system focused on fairness for farmers and eaters, and to examine and propose alternatives that take into account a variety of bioregions and farm types, as well society’s needs from us as farmers and stewards of the land.

A fundamental reorientation to focus on resilience needs to become the mainstream position of governments, farmers, and eaters. We have seen first-hand how fragile our system has become, and many of the options to combat that fragility are obvious. What governments  lacked in the past was the political will to make fundamental change a reality; we have concrete proof now that governments are capable of taking decisive action when the situation calls for a sea change.

In Solidarity,
Katie Ward

 

Un message de Katie Ward, présidente nationale de l’UNF

L’UNF dispose d’une base de principes très solide, fondée sur notre déclaration d’intention, sur laquelle nous pouvons fonder nos actions, un avantage que nous avons eu des raisons inhabituelles d’apprécier au cours de l’année écoulée. Lorsque vous avez un sol solide sous vos pieds, il est plus facile de pivoter et de changer d’approche tout en conservant votre centre de gravité. 

L’un des principes fondamentaux est que nous croyons et travaillons à la réalisation de la dignité économique des fermiers. C’est un fil conducteur qui traverse notre mandat initial et qui est toujours d’actualité pour un large éventail de questions. Le système dominant qui fait campagne pour des incitations financières de la part des gouvernements en faveur de l’agriculture à haut niveau d’intrants fait essentiellement passer l’argent par les fermiers aux conglomérats transnationaux qui fournissent ces intrants. Les fermiers qui participent à ce système n’obtiennent que peu ou pas de récompense financière, mais finissent par constater que la promesse de prospérité ne s’est pas concrétisée alors que les émissions de gaz à effet de serre (GES) du secteur agricole ont massivement augmenté en cours de route. 

Une croissance constante et exponentielle n’est plus envisageable. Bien que cela reste le paradigme dominant, nous devons travailler en tant qu’organisation pour éduquer et faire pression en faveur d’un système axé sur l’équité pour les fermiers et les mangeurs, et pour examiner et proposer des alternatives qui prennent en compte une variété de biogrégions et de types d’exploitations agricoles, ainsi que les besoins de la société en tant que fermiers et gardiens de la terre.

Une réorientation fondamentale axée sur la résilience doit devenir la position dominante des gouvernements, des fermiers et des mangeurs. Nous avons pu constater par nous-mêmes à quel point notre système est devenu fragile, et nombre des options permettant de lutter contre cette fragilité sont évidentes. Ce qui manquait aux gouvernements dans le passé, c’était la volonté politique de concrétiser un changement fondamental ; nous avons maintenant la preuve concrète que les gouvernements sont capables de prendre des mesures décisives lorsque la situation exige un changement en profondeu.

En solidarité,

Katie Ward

 

A Message from Bess Legault, NFU Women’s president

Since joining the NFU in 2019, during the 50th anniversary convention in Winnipeg, I have been inspired over and over again by the diversity of strong voices and perspectives being shared often by youth and women farmers at all levels of involvement with the NFU.  My understanding of agricultural policy continues to grow since I joined the NFU board and your voices of climate action, solidarity, collaboration, reconciliation, and the preservation of our farmland have inspired me to dedicate another term and step into a leadership voice as your Women’s President. A position I do not take lightly as I meet more and more women in my community, throughout British Columbia and across Canada stepping into leadership roles on their family farms, many first generation, ensuring their children have a life connected to the land and systems that nourish them.  

I recently read that 30% of Canadian farmers are women and I believe it has never been so important that we ensure our voices are heard in Canadian agricultural policy so we can continue to have a say in the future of our Canadian food system. 

In my opinion, deepening the connections between farmers has never been more important and my cup has been filled by meeting engaged, informed, and passionate farmers from across the country who stand in solidarity to take on the work needed to see a fair and equitable future for farming in Canada.  We plan to establish regular Women’s Caucus online gatherings to deepen the connections between women in the NFU throughout the year. I look forward to helping to coordinate these gatherings and encourage you to invite other women in agriculture to connect.

In Solidarity,

Bess Legault

 

Un message de Bess Legault, présidente des femmes de l’UNF

Depuis que j’ai rejoint l’UNF en 2019, lors du congrès du 50e anniversaire à Winnipeg, j’ai été inspirée à maintes reprises par la diversité des voix fortes et des perspectives partagées par les jeunes et les femmes fermiers à tous les niveaux d’implication au sein de l’UNF.  Ma compréhension de la politique agricole ne cesse de croître depuis que j’ai rejoint le conseil d’administration de l’UNF et vos voix sur l’action climatique, la solidarité, la collaboration, la réconciliation et la préservation de nos terres agricoles m’ont inspiré à consacrer un autre mandat en devenant votre présidente des femmes. Je ne prends pas ce poste à la légère, car je rencontre de plus en plus de femmes dans ma communauté, dans toute la Colombie-Britannique et dans tout le Canada, qui assument des rôles de direction dans leurs exploitations agricoles familiales. Nombre d’entre elles sont des fermiers de la première génération, qui veillent à ce que leurs enfants aient une vie liée à la terre et aux systèmes qui les nourrissent.  

J’ai lu récemment que 30 % des fermiers canadiens sont des femmes et je crois qu’il n’a jamais été aussi important de veiller à ce que nos voix soient entendues dans la politique agricole canadienne afin que nous puissions continuer à avoir notre mot à dire sur l’avenir de notre système alimentaire canadien. 

À mon avis, il n’a jamais été aussi important d’approfondir les liens entre les fermiers et ma coupe a été remplie en rencontrant des fermiers engagés, informés et passionnés de tout le pays, qui sont solidaires pour entreprendre le travail nécessaire afin d’envisager un avenir juste et équitable pour l’agriculture au Canada.  Nous prévoyons d’organiser régulièrement des réunions en ligne du Women’s Caucus afin d’approfondir les liens entre les femmes de la NFU tout au long de l’année. Je me réjouis de contribuer à la coordination de ces rassemblements et je vous encourage à inviter d’autres femmes du secteur agricole à se connecter.

En solidarité,

Bess Legault

 

A Message from Stuart Oke, NFU Youth President

It seems like a very quick couple of months since our first online NFU convention. Though it started in response to the pandemic it evolved into something incredibly unique and was a stupendous success. With fascinating free workshops throughout November and culminating with the event itself at the end of the month, it was filled with familiar faces but also first-time convention attendees. Some members were able to attend a digital convention much easier than an in-person one. Since the convention the NFU youth has been hard at work preparing a new podcast, to be released later in the year, which will examine various aspects of our food system and what a better one for everyone might look like. Stay tuned to the NFU social media accounts for more information but if anyone would like to offer help please reach out to nfuyouth@nfu.ca. 

In late January, several NFU youth joined representatives from around North America in an Advanced Course on Agroecology organized by the Peoples Agroecology Process and hosted by the University of Vermont. This six week online course expands on work over the past several years, which NFU members have contributed to, to develop agroecology in North America. The next UFQ will have  a more thorough review of the course content. It is with excitement that I cut short my usual report as it is a huge step forward for the NFU to offer  a more  bilingual UFQ for our members and further acknowledges the importance of offering services and communications in both of Canada’s official languages. 

In Solidarity,

Stuart Oke

 

 Un message de Stuart Oke, président de la jeunesse de l’UNF

Il semble que deux mois très courts se soient écoulés depuis notre première convention de l’UNF en ligne. Bien qu’elle ait commencé en réponse à la pandémie, elle a évolué en quelque chose d’incroyablement unique et a connu un succès remarquable. Avec des ateliers gratuits fascinants tout au long du mois de novembre et un point culminant à la fin du mois, elle a été remplie de visages familiers mais aussi de nouveaux participants à la convention. Certains membres ont pu assister à une convention numérique beaucoup plus facilement qu’à une convention en personne. Depuis la convention, les jeunes de l’UNF ont travaillé dur pour préparer un nouveau podcast, à paraître plus tard dans l’année, qui examinera divers aspects de notre système alimentaire et ce à quoi pourrait ressembler un meilleur système pour tous. Restez à l’écoute des comptes de médias sociaux de l’UNF pour plus d’informations, mais si quelqu’un souhaite offrir son aide, veuillez contacter nfuyouth@nfu.ca. 

Fin janvier, plusieurs jeunes de l’UNF ont rejoint des représentants de toute l’Amérique du Nord dans un cours avancé sur l’agroécologie organisé par le Processus d’agroécologie des peuples et accueilli par l’Université du Vermont. Ce cours en ligne de six semaines s’inscrit dans le prolongement des travaux réalisés ces dernières années, auxquels les membres de l’UNF ont contribué, pour développer l’agroécologie en Amérique du Nord. La prochaine l’UFT procédera à une révision plus approfondie du contenu du cours. C’est avec enthousiasme que je raccourcis mon rapport habituel, car il s’agit d’un grand pas en avant pour l’UNF d’offrir une UFT plus bilingue à nos membres et de reconnaître davantage l’importance d’offrir des services et des communications dans les deux langues officielles du Canada. 

En solidarité,

Stuart Oke

 

Greetings from Suliman Adam, NFU Communications & Membership Coordinator

Suliman Adam is the latest addition to the National Farmers Union staff, coming in as our new Communications & Membership Coordinator in January 2021. Suliman holds a Masters of Journalism from the University of Regina and has previous experience in radio production and presentation in both Sudan and Malaysia. He has hosted events and covered topics related to music, arts and culture and is currently an active voice for social struggles across the world. Having witnessed the nationwide revolution in Sudan on the ground, he set himself a goal to support and share the stories of people’s social struggles worldwide. In October 2020, he launched ‘Rebelium’, a podcast dedicated to sharing the real struggles of people living in countries with such struggles. When he came across the National Farmers Union, he quickly empathized with the issues and conflicts farmers are faced with nationwide in Canada. Suliman hopes to use his previous skills and experience to add value and echo the voices of farmers across Canada.

 

NATIONAL FARMERS FOUNDATION BOARD POSITION

The National Farmers Foundation is a registered Canadian charity.  

Its membership is comprised of its five-member volunteer board of directors. The board is composed of three NFU members and two NFU associate members. The NFF’s by-laws explicitly state:  Each member must accept and uphold the Statement of Purpose and the politics of the National Farmers Union. 

The Foundation’s mandate: “… to organize and implement programs of education

 and research around the development of rural Canada and to direct these programs toward both rural and urban populations.”

 There is an opening on the National Farmers Foundation board for an NFU Associate Member.  The NFF hopes to fill this position as soon as possible. As a board member, this is an opportunity  to contribute to the decision making of the organization, to attend meetings by phone (usually four per year) and to participate in the annual general meeting (travel stipend is provided).  This volunteer role may require approximately 1-2 hours per month and can be completed at home, with the exception of the annual general meeting.

 The NFF’s membership assess applicants for board openings to fit the needs of the organization and votes to select new board members. Board terms are three years and renewable.

 For more information or to learn the process for submitting your name for consideration, please email:nationalfarmersfoundation@gmail.com

 

Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency

Social activist, researcher, and author Seth Klein was the keynote speaker at the NFU’s 51st Annual Convention in November, 2020.  His talk was based on his recent book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency.  He noted that the militaristic framework used in the book may make some of us uncomfortable. He also came to the analogy uneasily.  However, Klein is convinced a wartime approach is needed to confront the climate emergency and that our own Canadian wartime experience should be embraced as a hopeful story. Aside from a slight decrease during the 2009 recession, our GHG emissions have flatlined since 2000 – not climbing but not in decline either. Our emissions are not on a path to stave off a horrific future for our children.

During WWII, Canada mobilized around a common cause, and in doing so we re-tooled our entire economy twice – once to ramp up wartime production and once to reconvert to peacetime.  Despite Canada’s war declaration in September, 1939, and Canada being on the cusp of being completely transformed, right up to the 11th hour our government and most of the public still hoped to avoid getting dragged into the fight.  There are cautionary tales from the war which we do not want to repeat, such as the internments, the squashing of civil rights, the response to refugees and the poisoning of Indigenous lands.  However, as we are now faced with confronting the harrowing gap between what the science says we must do  and what our politics seems prepared to entertain, there are important lessons to be learned from our response to WWII.

Klein has identified four markers to show when a government has shifted into emergency mode:

  • it spends what it takes to win;
  • it creates new economic institutions;
  • it shifts from voluntary and incentive-based policies to mandatory measures and;
  • it tells the truth about the severity of the crisis and communicates a sense of urgency about the measures necessary to combat it.

“During the second world war the government did all of those things and likewise, I would argue in response to the pandemic the Trudeau government has actually done all four,” said Klein. With respect to the climate emergency thus far, our current federal and provincial governments are failing on all four accounts.  During his presentation, Klein touched on eight of the fourteen lessons from our WWII experience which he groups together as a climate mobilization battle plan in his book.

Lesson # 1:  Adopt an emergency mindset. Name the emergency. Create a new sense of shared purpose to liberate a level of political action so that new economic ideas which were deemed off limits can become possible.

Lesson #2:  Shift from voluntary and incentive-based policies to mandatory measures.  In WWII, core goods were rationed under the War Measures Act.  During the pandemic, governments have issued health orders and taken strong actions to shut down non-essential parts of the economy.  To meet GHG reduction targets we need clear, near-term dates by which certain things will be required.  For example, it could be made illegal to sell new fossil fuel burning vehicles as of 2025 and all new buildings could be required to use something other than fossil fuels for heating as of next year.

Lesson #3:  Rally the public at every turn.  We assume everyone understood the threat at the outbreak of WWII and was ready to rally – that is not true.  It took leadership through frequency, tone and action. During the pandemic messages are ubiquitous. We receive daily press briefings. We hear regularly from public health officials. The media has taken seriously its duty to provide necessary information on a daily basis, and government leaders have listened to science and health experts and acted accordingly.  We now need leaders to tell us that for the health and stability of us all, our economy and our planet the fossil fuel industry will have to be wound down in a carefully managed way over the next two decades.

Lesson #4:  Inequality is toxic to social solidarity and mass mobilization.  Currently, the richer you are the higher your emissions, while the poorer you are the more vulnerable you are to climate change.  For a successful mobilization across class, race and gender, the public must be confident sacrifices are being made by the rich as well as middle and modest income people.  Polling has shown that when ambitious climate action is linked to tackling inequality, support for climate action goes through the roof.

Lesson #5:  Embrace economic planning and create the economic institutions needed to get the job done.  During WWII, Canada established 28 crown corporations to meet the supply and munitions requirements of the war effort. The private sector had an important role to play in the economic transition but it was not allowed to determine the allocation of scarce resources – in a time of emergency we do not leave such decisions to the market.  The federal government has created new economic programs, such as the CERB and the emergency wage subsidy, with great speed during the pandemic.  If the government really wants to act on the climate emergency it can create a new crown corporation to make non-fossil fuel electric agricultural equipment more available. It can expand the use of supply management boards and follow through with the NFU’s call for a new Canadian Farm Resilience Administration.

Lesson #6:  Spend what it takes to win. The benefit of an emergency mentality is it forces government out of this austerity mindset.  The message at the time of the war was, ‘if we lose the war, nothing will matter’.  At the time, the government issued new government victory bonds and new forms of progressive taxation, including a cap on profits.  In their response to the pandemic, the federal government and the Bank of Canada have shown us it has been possible all along to tackle homelessness, poverty, the farm crisis, the opioid crisis or the climate emergency. It is the political leadership which has been missing.

Lesson #7:  Indigenous leadership and rights are central to winning.  Indigenous code talkers  (Indigenous soldiers tasked with using their own languages to communicate secret military information) played a key role in the war.  Canada and the United States spent generations trying to erase Indigenous languages only to find these languages were the unbreakable code in the war.  Similarly, our two countries have spent generations systematically abusing and violating Indigenous rights and title. Over and over and over again the assertion of Indigenous rights is buying us time, by slowing and blocking new fossil fuel projects until our larger politics comes into compliance with the science.

Lesson #8:  Leave no one behind.  In WWII, over one million Canadians enlisted for military service and even more were employed in munitions production.  When the war ended all of those people had to be trained and re-integrated into a peacetime economy.  New income and housing support programs and post-secondary and training programs were developed.  About 300,000 Canadians are currently directly employed in fossil fuel industries.  The federal government needs to create a climate emergency just transition transfer, focused on those provinces and regions most reliant on oil and gas production, to catapult climate infrastructure spending and worker re-training.

Klein ended his presentation by saying that all of us who take the scientific realities of the climate emergency seriously wrestle with despair.  We do not know if we are going to do what we need to do in time.  It is worth appreciating that those who rallied in the face of facism 80 years ago, similarly did not know that they would win the war. They rallied regardless and in the process surprised themselves by what they were capable of achieving.  This is the spirit we need today.

 

With A Vision We Lead 

The global pandemic exposes the vulnerabilities, weaknesses and injustices in our current food system. It also provides the opportunity, as an organization and as individuals, to create our vision of a more pandemic-resistant and just food system – one built on the principles of food sovereignty. As NFU Director of Research, Cathy Holtslander said at the conclusion of the panel Vision for a Post-COVID Food System during the 51st Annual NFU Convention, “when we have a vision we can lead.” During the first pandemic related lockdown in the spring of 2020, Holtlsander put together the NFU’s vision for a sustainable and just food system, Envisioning a Post-Pandemic Agriculture and Food System (see Union Farmer Newsletter July 2020 or visit www.nfu.ca/policy/envisioning-a-post-pandemic-agriculture-and-food-system ).

Trent University professor of Economics and International Development Studies, Haroon Akram-Lodhi and Cathy Holtslander spoke on the Vision for a Post-COVID Food System panel. Akram-Lodhi stated the scientific consensus is the virus most likely originated in horseshoe bats, which live in proximity to wild and domesticated animals, and that therefore we must understand the links between new zoonotic diseases and animals raised for food.

Zoonotic diseases are bacterial or viral infections that originate in animals and can infect humans. They are as old as agriculture but have become more common in the 20th and 21st centuries. Meat production is an important part of agriculture. Seventy billion land animals are killed every year for food on our planet. Canada’s meat production and processing was worth $28 billion in 2016, with the average Canadian consuming about 70 kilograms of beef, chicken and pork each year. Cargill, Olymel, JBS and Maple Leaf control nearly all of Canada’s meat production, with 95% of Canada’s beef production controlled by three meat processing plants owned by JBS and Cargill. Akhram-Lodhi said almost all the money consumers spend on meat finds its way into various corporate pockets, not the bank accounts of small and medium-scale family farmers.

While COVID-19 did not originate in industrial livestock, commodity meat sold cheaply in supermarkets marginalizes livestock produced on smaller farms. One survival strategy in developing countries is for family farmers to move into less-cultivated, often forested areas. There,  they encroach on wilder habitats creating a potential route for animal viruses to be transmitted to livestock, then humans. A second small farm survival strategy, both here and in developing countries, is to produce non-traditional livestock (such as ostriches or llamas) for niche markets where large corporations do not operate. In China, niche markets exist for animals once caught in the wild and not traditionally bred in captivity, such as snakes, pangolins, turtles and civets. Some small-scale Chinese farmers use this strategy to survive competition from industrial livestock production, inadvertently creating opportunities for diseases to cross from non-traditional farmed livestock into conventional livestock and humans.

Akhram-Lodhi also highlighted the often unsanitary and frequently unsafe working conditions in industrial scale animal slaughter and processing plants, which also amplify the conditions that help spread viruses like COVID-19. He said it is no coincidence that over 1600 workers caught COVID-19 at the Cargill and JBS plants in Alberta, which between them process 70% of Canada’s beef. There is a co-morbidity between COVID-19 and our food system – but, he said, the answer is not further regulation of livestock production.

Industrial livestock production benefits from the business environment produced by strict food safety regulations because compliance costs eliminate competition from small and medium scale producers. For Akram-Lodhi, the answer is phasing out industrial livestock production. If we follow food sovereignty and agroecological principles, livestock would be managed by small and medium-scale family farmers and would respect ecological conditions, conserve resources, maintain high animal welfare standards and minimize impacts on the environment.

Whether it is the family farm unable to sell its superior meat because they cannot compete, the grocery store workers at the meat counter putting their lives at risk for low wages, or the temporary foreign worker on whom the agriculture sector relies for labour, Akram-Lodhi said farmers and workers are at the losing end of the food system in crisis. Our food system is “forged by government policy to disproportionately benefit the rich and the powerful. COVID-19 is precisely a symptom of why the food system must be transformed.”

In her presentation, Cathy Holtslander said the massive government and civil society response to the pandemic shows that it is possible to harness recovery efforts to build a food system in the public interest according to our needs and values, however whether change goes in the direction we want is not guaranteed. The powerful continually invest in convincing us that how things are, is how they must be. They tell us the pandemic, climate change, the farm income crisis and injustice are natural outcomes of uncontrollable forces, not the result of policies and structures which have been put in place to benefit the powerful. 

Holtslander noted that for the past 35 years industrialized countries like Canada have embraced globalization and neoliberalism to justify reducing the size, scope and power of government. The result is more space and opportunity for multinational corporations to operate without restraint. Growth, debt and trade are offered as the answers to societal economic and social justice problems. But Holtslander said, these are false solutions. Growth is celebrated, but we live on a finite planet. Debt is a demand on our future, moving wealth from those who owe to those who own. Ever freer trade is promoted as the answer to national economic problems, but the desperate chase after global competitiveness drives commodity prices down and drains wealth from the countryside. It pumps money uphill and concentrates wealth and power in ever larger corporations.

Holtslander said the focus on growth, debt and trade distracts us from the dysfunction within our current system. which daily throws farmers into debt and off the land, drives us forward to the next pandemic and accelerates climate change. The basics of a post-pandemic food system must be ecological health, social justice and economic viability. We need to develop, build and create new institutions, policies, trade agreements and regulations which put real limits on the powerful corporations – that are now laying the groundwork for their post-COVID vision of pandemic-justified surveillance, data mining, automation and digitization. Holtslander dared us to talk about a food system based on non-growth where there are more and younger farmers, production aimed to meet human needs, food which is nutritious and affordable for all, and the ecosystem is healthy. 

As farmers working together, she said we can defend, improve and rebuild the institutions of food sovereignty such as supply management, the Canadian Grain Commission, our public interest regulatory system, farmers’ markets, food hubs, orderly marketing systems like the Wheat Board, and producer and consumer cooperatives. We can also be active in the political realm with allies and other farmers to build problem-solving experience and to show the value of public engagement and decision making.

The NFU is already doing this work. Two examples are our call for a Canadian Farm Resilience Administration to research and support the transition to climate friendly agriculture and the call from the NFU in Prince Edward Island for a land bank to make farmland available to young family farmers. When we have a vision, we lead.

 

A Primer on the International Solidarity Work of the NFU

In her presentation on the history of the International Program Committee (IPC) during the Zooming Out: NFU and Global Solidarity panel, Annette Desmarais reminded attendees to the 51st NFU Annual Convention that the NFU has been active at an international level almost from the beginning.  She went on to say, “I am convinced this international experience has helped shape who the NFU is today and how it works.”  

A few examples of the NFU’s international engagement in earlier decades include four NFUer’s participating in the founding convention of the St. Vincent NFU in 1980; meetings with North Dakota farm organizations when the NFU initiated a campaign on NAFTA in 1989; and in 1993 the NFU women’s vice president was at GATT protests in Geneva, the NFU youth president was on a labour exchange in Mexico and an NFU representative participated in the founding conference of La Via Campesina (LVC) in Belgium.  Desmarais said, “we have been busy and by 1992, 1993, 1994 we just seemed to get busier and busier.”  All this international work inspired the NFU to form the International Program Committee (IPC) in 1995.

The main goals of the IPC are:

  • to broaden the NFU’s understanding and analysis of the global food system;
  • to share information and experiences with farmers elsewhere about what is happening in agriculture, what is changing in the agricultural landscape and to learn how farmers are organizing themselves;
  • to create greater impact in Canada and effect social change and;
  • to understand the impact of Canadian agricultural policies on Canadian farm families but also what kinds of impacts our policies have on farmers elsewhere.

The IPC’s key strategies are to work with LVC and other organizations to organize international exchanges; to ensure the NFU’s international work is grounded in local realities; to ensure a gender analysis to increase women’s participation and representation; to strengthen relations with like-minded development agencies for much needed financial and political support; and to strengthen the LVC in the Americas.

One representative from each NFU region is elected at regional conventions to sit on the IPC which always works closely with the national board and executive.  The IPC currently has two subcommittees – the Indigenous Solidarity Working Group (ISWG) and the Migrant Worker Sub-Committee (MWS).

Bryanna Kenny, co-chair of the ISWG, told the convention that the ISWG has three elements:

  1. we aim to share knowledge and educate ourselves about settler colonialism and racism in Canadian agriculture and rural communities;
  2. we focus on relationship building to hear directly from Indigenous organizers about what they are doing to fight for food sovereignty and to discuss ways to work collectively for a more inclusive and anti-colonial food sovereignty movement;
  3. Action!  We aim to use the collective power of the NFU to fight alongside Indigenous peoples for food sovereignty, and at an individual level, to take what we learn in the group to apply on our own farms and in our own communities.

A webinar organized by the ISWG on Indigenous Solidarity with speakers Dawn Morrison and Sarah Carter took place on November 10, 2020 as part of NFU November Webinar series.  Part of the webinar is available for all to view on the NFU’s Youtube channel.  Kenny said that over the coming year the ISWG plans to continue to develop its partnership with Dawn Morrison and the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty to deepen and expand the NFU’s approach to Indigenous food sovereignty and de-colonization.

The Migrant Workers Sub-Committee (MWS) had a busy year in 2020, as the COVID19 pandemic highlighted the precarious situation faced by the migrant workers who are essential to Canadian agriculture.  Committee member, Madeline Marmor, told the convention the MWS has written articles for the UFQ, contributed to articles in academic journals and newspapers as well as organizing the NFU November webinar, titled Work It! Farm Labour Affects Us All. The MWS works in solidarity with Justicia for Migrant Workers and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. The MWS will continue to work with friends and allies to push for a system overhaul.  Marmor described the current system as unjust and in need of a change.

Joan Brady is one of two North American representatives on La Via Campensina’s (LVC) International Coordinating Committee (ICC), a position she has held since 2017.  In her comments to the convention, Brady said that the NFU grew from provincial farmer’s unions as farmers began to feel they needed to cooperate at the national level, as that was the level where the policies which most affected their future and livelihoods were being debated and created.  So too, the 182 member organizations of LVC realized they were all being affected by the same transnational companies and neo-liberal policies.  According to Brady, LVC uses the term peasant not in a socio-economic way but rather to identify a healthy connection to land and community as the basis for food production.

La Via Campesina mobilizes under eight thematic collectives and there are opportunities for NFU members to participate in these collectives.  The eight collectives are:  Agroecology, Seeds and Biodiversity; Peasant Rights; Public Policies and Food Sovereignty; Environmental and Climate Justice; Land, Water and Territories; Against Transnational Corporations; Migration and Rural Workers; and WTO, FTA and other Trade Issues.

One of the NFU members who is active in a LVC collective is Jessie MacInnis who is involved in the Peasant Rights Collective.  MacInnis said that the work of the collective focuses on advocacy, education and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, passed by the UN General Assembly in 2018.  This declaration recognizes peasants as a social group with claims to land, to seed, to natural resources and to the right to decent incomes and livelihoods.

Nettie Wiebe was an initial member of the LVC International Coordinating Committee and continues to be involved in international work on behalf of the NFU and LVC.  In 2007/2008 there was a huge crisis in the global food system and governments invited civil society and the private sector to participate around policy making.  The Civil Society and Indigenous People’s Mechanism for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security (CSM) was officially formed in 2010.  The CSM has 44 movements and organizations around the table but represents many other organizations.  LVC has several seats in this space.  Eight representatives, including Wiebe, are on an advisory committee which goes into direct negotiations with governments around guidelines, not enforceable treaties.

La Via Campesina has brought some key issues into the international discourse including land tenure and small holder relationships to the market.  It is now working to bring agroecology and gender equality/women’s empowerment forward.  

Wiebe concluded the Zooming Out panel by saying, “I think it is extraordinarily significant that the farmers union as a national organization has such a prominent and important relationship to our allies globally … over the years I think it has been very important for our national work that we’ve engaged in this international work … we ourselves here at home are strengthened and encouraged and educated.  We are propelled forward on the momentum of our international work.”

If you are interested in becoming involved in the IPC, one of the IPC’s subcommittees (ISWG or MWS) or in a LVC collective please contact the IPC Coordinator, Martha Robbins, at ipccoordinator@nfu.ca.

 

Resolutions passed at Convention 2020

 

  1. Financial Support for New/Young Ecological Farmers

WHEREAS the Canadian farm population is aging and continues to decline in number;

WHEREAS we are facing a climate crisis;

WHEREAS there are many barriers to entry (primarily financial) for new, ecological farmers (youth, career switchers, immigrants, etc.), and;

WHEREAS farmland prices have risen out of the range of affordability in many provinces, particularly British Columbia and Ontario;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU research financial support policies for new/young/transitional ecological farmers and write a national policy recommendation for use in lobbying government,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NFU provide members with information on such financial supports and relevant policy tools for lobbying at their local level.

  1. Extension Service Staff for Local Food Agriculture

WHEREAS Provincial Governments have cut quality independent farm and food specialist advice services of vital need to help inform and encourage farmers and local food systems to survive and thrive;

WHEREAS vested private farm and food specialists are costly to hire and have vested interests less in line with community goals to reduce Greenhouse Gases (GHGs);

WHEREAS the Farm and Food systems can reduce GHGs, if given good advice and practical examples suitable for local conditions;

WHEREAS local and regional public interest minded qualified extension service staffing creates employment and assists farmers and food processors with best practices and;

WHEREAS GHG reduction goals will require more good paying dedicated local jobs to help to do and to encourage skilled rewarding farmer work in our food systems that can help to reduce GHGs;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU ask provincial and federal governments to hire agricultural extension service staff with responsibility for local food and direct farm marketing. Staff roles would include: demonstrating and sharing skilled farming practices; understanding healthy and safe food skills practices; giving advice to new farmers; offering education on producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions; providing direct marketing advice; and offering a conduit between local food producers and the government. 

  1. Direct Marketing Farmer Insurance

WHEREAS several provincial farm insurance agencies from across Canada have no form of loss insurance for direct market farmers and;

WHEREAS direct market farmers are at a huge risk and even disadvantage if there is a major environmental incident;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU and its Direct Marketing Committee investigate Federal Business Risk Management crop insurance coverage for direct market farmers including information about what is and is not currently available in Canadian provinces, and recommend Federal Business Risk Management crop insurance options for direct market farmers in provinces across Canada.

  1. The NFU Farmers Network Strategy 

WHEREAS many of our members do not know each other and yet there is so much collective knowledge within the organization;

WHEREAS retaining and gaining new members is a major challenge and we are competing with other organizations for time and energy and;

WHEREAS farmers connecting with one another is a huge resource that we can offer as an organization and bring value to the entire membership;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU, through its Membership Development Committee, set up a networking strategy that more formally connects members with other members, which could include phone trees, localized teams, forums, mentorships, and farmer-to-farmer workshops.

  1. Federal Crop Breeding and Variety Development Programs

WHEREAS the Federal Government has cut back its quality public interest crop research and breeding over a period of years with intentions to dangerously exit public beneficial crop breeding and variety development work and turn this over to for profit expensive private effort and sidelining real benefit to all food eaters and farmers;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU advocate that the federal government maintain and expand its crop breeding and variety development programs, increase the budget for these, prevent the privatization of vital crop research and breeding, and reverse the imposition of related user fees on farmers.

  1. Royal Commission on COVID-19 and Agriculture

WHEREAS COVID-19 exposed the flaws in Canada’s food production, processing and distribution systems;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU advocate that the federal government create a Royal Commission to look at how COVID-19 exposed the flaws in Canada’s food and agricultural system. The purpose will be to explore the flaws in Canada’s food production, processing and distribution systems, which proved costly to producers resulting in lower prices; costly to consumers through higher prices; costly to labour with the loss of employment and forced workplace exposure to COVID-19; and a massive bill to taxpayers who have been forced to subsidize the flaws in Canada’s failing food system.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Royal Commission propose a strategy to prevent these issues in the future. 

  1. Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Project

WHEREAS the Saskatchewan government has announced plans to develop a $4 billion mega-project to expand irrigation using water from Lake Diefenbaker on the South Saskatchewan River, funded in part by federal infrastructure development money;

WHEREAS past studies show that much of the land in the proposed project area is not suitable for irrigation;

WHEREAS the already existing Lake Diefenbaker irrigation capacity is underutilized;

WHEREAS none of the proposed mega-project funds are allocated to on-farm infrastructure or food processing capacity required to make use of diversified production made possible by irrigation, and;

WHEREAS serious negative environmental consequences including biodiversity loss and increased carbon emissions would result from the proposed massive expansion of Lake Diefenbaker irrigation;

BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU oppose the $4 billion Irrigation Project at Lake Diefenbaker proposed by the Saskatchewan government in July 2020.

  1. End “Right of Entry”

WHEREAS, the Alberta government has allowed the oil and gas industry to stop paying property taxes, which has placed an increased tax burden on farmers and all rural residents;

WHEREAS the oil and gas companies have in many cases stopped paying their annual rent to landowners and farmers;

WHEREAS many oil and gas companies have failed to complete or pay for the abandonment, remediation, and reclamation of their wells, pipelines, and facilities.  Leaving these environmental liabilities to be cleaned up and to be paid for with taxpayer money and;

WHEREAS the failure for the oil and gas and the Alberta Government to live up to these obligations is a violation of the social contract used to justify the creation of the Surface Rights Act that includes The “Right of Entry;” a right to seek an order from the Surface Rights Board to enter the property of a reluctant landowner. These orders are issued without the ability of the landowner to object; an ability that has given the industry an unfair advantage in negotiations;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU call on the Alberta government to permanently and irrevocably extinguish the oil and gas industry’s use of the “Right of Entry”.

  1. Site C Dam

WHEREAS major geological problems have been identified at the Site C dam construction site on BC’s Peace River, including under the foundation for the powerhouse, the spillways and the dam itself, which threaten the stability and safety of the whole project;

WHEREAS it is unclear whether these geological problems can be solved by engineering solutions, what their costs might be, and whether the safety of workers and downstream residents can be assured and;

WHEREAS the Site C Dam, which will flood 15,000 acres of prime horticulture land in a class one climate for agriculture capable of meeting the nutritional requirements of over 1 million people a year is important to food security for British Columbians and northern Canadians;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the NFU call upon the Honourable John Horgan, BC Premier and the Honourable Bruce Ralston, BC Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources to:

  • Institute a formal public inquiry, vested with subpoena power, to hear testimony under oath and subject to cross-examination, to determine: 
  1. a) whether Site C dam is buildable given the major geological problems that have been identified;
  2. b) whether it would be a threat to public safety; and
  3. c) how much it would cost.
  • Immediately stop all major works on the Site C dam construction site pending the outcome of this inquiry.

  1. Changes to Government Agriculture Programs

WHEREAS, Canadian Governments’ suite of Business Risk Management and farm support programs (including AgriStability and AgriInvest) lack any intent, mechanism, or target to increase the number of farmers and may be contributing to the ongoing decline of those numbers;

WHEREAS Canada has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30% by 2030;

WHEREAS most farmers would be willing and able to reduce emissions and contribute to helping our nation reach that target if given appropriate information, support, programs, and policies;

WHEREAS farmers’ knowledge is key to understanding natural systems, including cycling nutrients and not overloading our environment, and;

WHEREAS, a well-crafted suite of emission-reduction and sustainability policies create the opportunity to increase the number of farmers and increase net farm income;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU lobby federal and provincial governments to:

  1. Restructure Business Risk Management and farm support programs to ensure that they function to increase the number of farmers, increase margins and net farm income from the markets, and decrease greenhouse gas  (GHG) emissions—this includes capping and reducing payments to very large operations;
  2. Prioritize, in all government programs, increasing farmer numbers and net incomes while reducing emissions;
  3. Measure and report progress metrics for net income, GHG emissions, and farmer numbers.

 

  1. Ethics and Transparency in Investing

WHEREAS many pension funds, mutual funds, and investment firms are investing in farmland to the detriment of farmers, and;

WHEREAS many mutual funds, exchange traded funds and other investment firms are marketing their products as ethical investments with little regard to their impact on land prices and farming practices;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU call for pension and investment funds to divest from farmland 

  1. Fundraising Policy

WHEREAS the NFU has maintained a 50 year old reputation for its unbiased research in Canadian agricultural issues because it is membership funded, and membership driven;

WHEREAS the NFU is seeking more and more fundraising for specific projects;

WHEREAS NFU board members and staff do change, and; 

WHEREAS the NFU is a uniquely democratically run organization;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the current NFU staff and board work to develop policy that clearly outlines the priorities and limitations of fundraising across the NFU, to ensure consistent structure around fundraising and the integrity of the organization.

  1. Electrification of Agricultural Equipment

WHEREAS the federal government provides financial incentive to purchase electric vehicles and;

WHEREAS the NFU is encouraging electrification of Canada’s agricultural equipment to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU lobby the federal government to introduce a program of financial incentives for farmers and farm equipment manufacturers to convert agricultural equipment to electric.

  1. Migrant Workers NFU Membership

WHEREAS migrant workers are key to food production in Canada, and;

WHEREAS migrant workers are unable to participate in the NFU due to the prohibitive cost of membership relative to their wages.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU Board draft a constitutional amendment to enable migrant farm workers to purchase memberships at a significantly reduced rate, in relation to their wages.

  1. Northwest Territories added to Region 7

WHEREAS the Northwest Territories, like Alberta, has mountains on its western border, spilling into wide flatlands, and NWT and Alberta also share transportation infrastructure such as train lines, highways, and direct flights and;

WHEREAS if NFU wishes to increase our base of northern farmers/residents, we must be practical in our approach to recruiting them, as well as considering accessibility and connections to larger communities of farmers;

BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU board consider making the Northwest Territories part of Region 7.

  1. Northern Advisory Committee

WHEREAS NFU does not have the membership base to support the development of a Northern Region, which would include persons from Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and Yukon, but needs to begin to welcome northern farmers to the NFU, in order to strengthen and diversify our organization, and so that we might offer a truly diverse Canadian perspective on farming and;

WHEREAS Canada’s north is at the forefront of climate change and food security issues, but are often overlooked due to their much smaller political and population base;

BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU begin the process of recognizing the needs and struggles of Canada’s northernmost farmers by asking the NFU board to establish a Northern Advisory Committee.

 

It’s Census of Agriculture time again!

Every five years a Census of Agriculture is conducted. The statistics it generates are extremely valuable to the NFU. Some of the data sets go back to 1921, giving us a long‐term view of trends such as number of farmers, size of farms, amount of farmland in production, and types of crops grown. New questions have been added over the years on topics such as inputs, land use, off‐farm employment and organic certification. The data collected allows us to see a snapshot of agriculture in Canada every 5 years as well as trends over time. Canada’s Census of Agriculture creates valuable data sets that are publicly accessible. We can use the resulting statistics to assess the impacts of past policies and make the case for the kinds of policy we want.

It is important that farmers participate in the Census of Agriculture so that the resulting data is as accurate as possible. With your help, the NFU, other researchers and policy makers will have the highest quality information when the results of the 2021 Census of Agriculture are released next year. Thanks!

 

Paul Beingessner Award Winners

The National Farmers Union (NFU) would like to congratulate Courtney Nell  and Rebecca MacInnis, winners of the Beingessner Award for Excellence in Writing.  

Courtney lives on a mixed farm near Francis, Saskatchewan.  She raises chickens for eggs and helps on the farm in the shop and driving equipment. Courtney plans on going to the University of Saskatchewan for Soil Science next year. She enjoys farming and hopes to one day farm on her own or with her family.  

Rebecca is a first generation farmer and runs Spring Tide farm with her sister.  Together they grow mixed vegetables and flowers on their small-scale, agroecologically driven, market garden.  Rebecca grew up, began her farming journey, and now owns a farm in Nova Scotia on unceded Mi’kma’ki. Farming piqued her interest because it simultaneously allowed her to become more self-sufficient and more community minded. She loves the way that food brings people together; when she is not growing food, Rebecca can often be found preserving, transforming, sharing, or consuming it. Having just recently started her own business, she looks forward to having the power and privilege to shape the food system towards justice and inclusion.   With her farm, as well as with this award, Rebecca plans to walk the walk of food justice and never forget that everything is political.  

The Beingessner Award is part of the NFU Youth’s Campaign for New Farmers, and is given to the authors of the best 500-1000 word essay on agriculture and food issues in Canada. The theme of this year’s essay was What does an anti-racist and socially just food system look like to you, and how can we as youth help to build it?

The Beingessner Award is named after Paul Beingessner of Truax, Saskatchewan, who passed away in the spring of 2009 in a tragic farm accident.  Paul was born on April 26, 1954, and returned to the family farm after obtaining his BA (Hon) in Psychology in 1976 and working with youth in Regina for a few years.  Described as the “god-father of modern shortline railways” by former NFU President Stewart Wells, Paul was instrumental in the founding of Saskatchewan’s first shortline railway, Southern Rails Co-operative, and served as general manager from 1991 to 1997.   When he left Southern Rails, he stayed on as a board member, and worked with the Ministry of Highways Short Line Advisory Unit supporting other efforts of farmers to start shortline railways.  Since 1991, Paul wrote a weekly column on farming and transportation issues with a social justice focus featured in papers across Western Canada.  After leaving the government in 1999, his expertise on transportation issues resulted in consulting work across Western Canada and the United States.  Beingessner also served as a Sask. Wheat Pool Delegate from 1996 to 1998, was an ardent supporter of the CWB and ran for the position of director in 2008.

 

Courtney Nell – Francis, Sk (Age: 17)

For a white person living on a farm in Saskatchewan it is sometimes hard to stay up to date with issues in the world and it is hard to connect to them. But this is an issue that all farmers should be concerned about regardless of race. Youth in both cities and farms are going to be the people who are going to change the food system. I believe the food system has to change in many ways in order to be anti-racist and socially just.

To start with, grocery stores in Regina need to change the products they stock. It is hard to find the ingredients to cook foods that are Korean,  Afghanistan etc without going to many little special stores that don’t even have everything and are expensive. All types of food should be available for everyone at reasonable prices, especially things that can be produced cheap.

Everyone knows about the controversy of having the picture of former black slaves on syrup bottles and oatmeal brands. Because it has a negative past this has to be changed to not make such a violent and unjust part of our history a marketing tool. A lot of people have called for change on these brands. These companies need to own up to having a racist label and take action to change that.

For the food system to be socially just and anti-racist it needs to have different types of foods available to everyone at a reasonable price and in a non derogatory manner.

The youth of today are playing a huge role in making this type of food system, this type of world a reality. Many people are joining protest groups and are being heard that way. Others who can’t take part in those protests are using all the tools they have at their disposal. These include social media platforms including but not limited to TikTok, Instagram and Facebook. As youth in today’s world the ways to have our voices heard are endless. Show pride in your generation and stand up to one of the most talked about causes in a long time. Do everything you can. Go to rallies, post on social media, do everything you possibly can to show the world that our generation is changing it for the better.

There are so many ways to change our own lives to benefit others. Shop at small grocery stores instead of big companies. Remember a lot of small  places are having a hard time staying open, especially during a pandemic. Help those people stay open while buying the groceries that you need anyways. Make a difference by choosing to shop local instead of shopping global. And bonus! You get to reduce your carbon footprint!

Today is the day of change. Don’t let it slip by, take it by both  hands and make the most of the unique situation we have. This is our chance to have our voices heard. Speak out for things that will make the world a better place for generations to come. This is something that we as youth have to change so get out there and help make it happen!

 

 

Rebecca MacInnis, Lapland, NS (Age: 26)

It’s no surprise that agriculture, like many things in our colonial nation, was built on the backs and without the recognition of Black and Indigenous people. From the theft and disregard of Indigenous lands and practices to the blatant exploitation of Black bodies through times of slavery and beyond to the mistreatment of migrant workers, our capitalist and exploitative food system is inherently flawed.

Agriculture does not exist in a silo, it is intertwined with the day to day life of everyone on earth. Making the food system more just means altering everything with which it interacts. So much of the messaging regarding activism in the mainstream media targets the individual and claims that consumer choices are impactful and can make a difference. While “voting with your dollars” should not be discounted in every context, it is especially harmful when it comes to food, something that we all consume everyday. Buying local and organic is advertised as clean and moral, while convenience food is seen as dirty and cheap.

This justification places the blame on the eater by creating judgement based on what they can afford. The systemic issue at play here is labour inequality and freedom of choice. To start the transition to a more just and anti-racist food system, we must first consider the labour movement. At the very least, to me an anti-racist and socially just food system starts with an increase of minimum wage and an improvement of labour rights and ends with the abolishment of capitalism. Any changes that are still reliant on operating within a capitalist framework are destined to remain exploitative in nature. The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a much needed light on the exploitation in our society and has made it more obvious than ever that the lowest paid among us are the most essential. We need to reframe our world and our minds to begin this transition.

Labour rights should be challenged across the board, not only with consumers. Who can afford to buy what, and why is some work more deserving of higher pay? This is an issue that can be highlighted on farms across Canada. The current norm is that farming internships, specifically on small-scale organic farms, are unpaid. This norm is harmful because all work should be compensated, but more so because it creates a barrier to entry whereby only those in a privileged enough position may earn the “qualifications” to be a farmer. The corporatization of our food system has nudged along the degradation of agricultural knowledge, but unpaid work should not be the method by which we reintroduce it. We are at a point where we must move away from the master classes taught by white men and without regard for the traditional knowledge upon which they are so often based. We need to move away from poor representation that demonstrates agriculture as a monoculture of white faces. We know the negative impacts of monocultures and need to strengthen, diversify, and create resiliency in our system.

It is at this time that we as young farmers need to step up. I, as a white settler myself, need to decenter myself from the story and we, the youth, need to show solidarity and amplify the voices of the Mii’kmaq fishers exercising their treaty rights, of the migrant workers fighting for decent housing, of the Northeast Farmers of Colour working to put land into trust. We need to do more than acknowledge our presence on Indigenous land, in my case unceded Mi’kma’ki. We need to participate in the Land Back movement: returning land and demanding treaty rights be upheld. We need to abolish the police, create affordable housing for all, and demand living wages. We need to stand in solidarity with grassroots peasant movements and push for agrarian reform to redistribute land resources. We need to work cooperatively and against corporate takeover. Food is political. And may we, the youth, harness that fact by looking beyond the agricultural system to make society as a whole more anti-racist and just.

 

Obituary for Stuart Thiesson  (1928 – 2021)

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

It is with deep sorrow that we note the passing of Stuart Thiesson.  Stuart grew up in the community of McMahon, SK. before heading to Moose Jaw to take teacher training. After a year of teaching he headed to Saskatoon in 1951. For the next 41 years he worked for the Saskatchewan Farmers Union and later the National Farmers Union (NFU). Stuart also served on the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board from 1961-1964, the Statistics Canada Advisory Committee on Agriculture from 1985-1998, and he was a founding board member of the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1971 and served until 1981. 

In 2000 Stuart was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Saskatchewan and in 2007 was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Stuart was a powerhouse working as the first Executive Secretary for the NFU, and was admired and loved by those working with him.

“Stuart Thiesson was the pen – the wordsmith – behind so much of what the NFU stood for since its founding, whether it was our constitution,  policy proposals, or a presentation to Provincial or Federal Governments, he put the ideas into words and turned those words into calls for action.

He was a mentor to many, a true friend through controversy or challenge, and always available for straight forward advice. Canada has lost one of its best.”  

Wayne Easter, MP and former NFU President

“Stuart carried on the legacy of his predecessor Farm Union Secretaries of careful research and analysis.  His long service and continuing efforts to keep the provincial and then national organization financially viable were often thwarted by a membership whose enthusiasm ebbed and flowed with their economic well being; at its strongest in times of greatest need then nearly abandoned when prices improved. Stuart’s quiet intellect and his strong faith in humanity gave us a guide toward the better world that we all seek.  May that legacy continue.”  

Vic Althouse, former MP and NFU Director

Memorial donations may be made to the National Farmers Foundation–℅ Glen Koroluk 595 Goulding Ave. Winnipeg MB R3G 2S3

 

 

 

 

 

Obituary for Frank Edward Cushon

(1917 – 2020)

Oxbow, Saskatchewan

Photo: Frank Cushon presenting a red herring flag to an SFU

meeting in 1964 as a “solution” to the great Canadian flag debate. 

We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Frank Cushon at the Gainsborough Health Centre on October 3, 2020, five weeks before his 103rd birthday.

The youngest son of the late Harold and Agnes (Black) Cushon, Frank was predeceased by his wife Violet (Berntson).  He is survived by sons Sandy (Karen Omelan), Hal (Dianne Jordan) and Ian (Jo-Anne); daughters-in-law, Janice Cushon and Ulrike Veith; grandchildren Jennifer (Craig Silliphant), Ian, Kate (Scott Ardelan), Kevin, Liam and Anna, and great-grandchildren Luke and Imogen.

Frank was born on a farm in the Palestine district northeast of Oxbow. One hundred years ago this Fall, the family moved to the farm now run by Ian and Jo-Anne.

In his 102 years, Frank wore many hats. As well as family man and farmer, he was a musician, gardener, sheep man, Border collie trainer, tree planter, conservationist and celebrated bread and biscuit maker.  Frank spent many happy hours in his garden. He was especially proud of his apple trees, all developed on the prairies.  And he was convinced that his Rocket tomatoes were the earliest and the best. Everything was happily shared with friends and family.

In 1981, Frank and Violet built a new house and retired to Oxbow.  In town, Frank gladly gave free music lessons to neighbourhood youngsters.  During the growing season, he would help on the farm, tend to the farm garden and share his “wisdom” with the next generation.

Frank was never one to dwell on his advancing years– forget your age, just live your life. He rode his bicycle to coffee row and around the farm into his nineties.

Frank was an avid reader and a keen observer of news and current events.  Like many of his generation, he was strongly influenced by the Great Depression. Nothing was wasted or thrown out, and Frank could make any farm equipment last far beyond its useful life. His sons were known to tease him about the weight of the welding rods in just about every implement!

Like every other Saskatchewan farmer, our father kept a keen eye on the weather. For over 50 years he recorded the daily temperature and rainfall for Environment Canada.

Frank was a supporter of the good works of the community, and a firm believer in the cooperative spirit. He was an active member of the Saskatchewan Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union. Frank sat on the hospital and church boards and sang in the St Paul’s choir. He helped to launch the Ralph Allan Museum and the Bow Valley Villa.  Frank was one of the original board members when the Co-op first opened a grocery store in Oxbow. It was a proud day for us in 2016 when he was asked to cut the ribbon to open the new Co-op store.

Frank was a man with strong opinions about everything from the value of mulch to the latest political shenanigans, preferably shared over a cup of strong coffee. He has left us a lifetime of stories that will help us through this difficult time. 

Donations in memory of Frank may be made to the Bow Valley Villa in Oxbow or a charity of your choice.

 

Constitutional Amendment passed at the NFU 51st Annual Convention

Delegates at the 2021 National Convention passed a constitutional amendment that enabled the Board of Directors to create introductory or promotional offers for membership.  This decision followed concerted deliberation at the convention.  The NFU Board of Directors is currently discussing the implications and structure of promotional memberships.  The Board members recognize the critical value of membership dues to the functioning of the Union and the financial commitment of existing members. 

The exact wording of the Constitutional Amendment added clause v to Section 11 (a):

  1. (a) All persons applying for membership in the union shall pay an annual membership                  fee of $195.00 minimum, except:                   12/74           12/81         12/84 01/90     01/91     11/10

        (i) New members who sign a yearly bank authorization shall be offered an introductory membership of   two                    years for the price of a one-year membership unit after which time the member shall pay the regular annual  

          membership fee.                                                                      01/94

 

       (ii) Any youth between the ages of 14 and 25 may become a member of the union by the payment of an annual  

         fee of 50% of the regular membership fee, excepting members who farm in regions where provincial stable  

         funding mandates that the full membership fee be paid.                                          01/88             01/91      11/13

 

       (iii) Any non-farming family unit or person may become an associate member of the union by the payment of                                                                       

       an annual fee which is determined from time to time by the Board.                                                12/96      11/09

 

       (iv) Where a region is participating in a legislated provincial funding program, each member of the region  

       shall pay an annual membership fee which is determined from time to time by the Board.                         11/02

 

       (v) Where introductory or promotional offers are made to members as determined by the board.

           (b) Membership dues shall be divided between the local, the district and the central office, as may from     time to time be determined by the Board.

 

NFU stands in solidarity with Indian farmers protesting new agricultural laws

 

The National Farmers Union stands in solidarity with farmers in India, who continue to protest new agricultural laws formally passed in September. This agriculture reform will effectively undermine the guaranteed prices farmers receive through government purchase of staple crops and open them up to exploitation by large corporations. Tens of thousands of Indian farmers are protesting, demanding that these reforms be rescinded or that a new law be introduced to guarantee them a minimum price for their crops. “We in Canada recognize the Indian farmers’ struggle as similar to our own struggle. We support them in their right to protest, and in their call for agriculture policy that supports the millions of smallholder farmers growing food in India,” said NFU President Katie Ward.

As shrinking net farm incomes reach a crisis level for farmers around the world and also in Canada, Canadian farmers understand the need for government regulation that works for farmers rather than for those who take profits at the expense of farmers. “We have experienced the dismantling of institutions that were vital to the bargaining power and, by extension, incomes of Canadian farmers,” said NFU Vice-President Stewart Wells, “For example the loss of the single desk marketing system for hogs in the 1990’s and more recently the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board, among others.”

As a result of losing the single-desk marketing system for hogs, thousands of Canadian farmers could no longer raise hogs because they could not access the market without a contract. The intentional shift to corporate hog production has left that sector fully vertically integrated and dominated by only three meat processing corporations. Prices are regularly below the cost of the production. The industry is heavily dependent on government safety nets to ride out the highly volatile market. It is an industry now largely devoid of family farmers. The change in hog farming in Canada was swift and brutal for family farmers raising hogs – a direct result of agriculture policy aimed at assisting corporations instead of farmers.

A farmer covers his face to protect himself from tear gas, during a protest against controversial farm laws introduced by the government, in New Delhi, India, January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

While the circumstances of Indian farmers are vastly different than Canadian farmers in many ways, it is clear that agricultural policies that serve to undercut farmers’ livelihoods to make room for large corporations to profit will have devastating consequences for the millions of smallholder farmers and their families.

India’s food security is threatened, as the new laws will shift its agricultural economy from  “food production” for people to “commodity production” for trade and export. Farmers take on more debt and risk in a system of contract farming.  The new laws will lift the ban on hoarding food by corporate buyers, which will allow them to capitalize on ups and downs in production by price-gouging consumers during shortages and depressing prices to farmers in times of abundance.

“Farmers did not ask for this reform, and it is not in their interest. The impacts will be devastating and far-reaching. Canada’s NFU supports Indian farmers in their opposition to these reforms,” Ward stated, “We object to the suppression of democratic protest taking place in India this week. We stand with Indian farmers, and their right to protect their livelihoods by protesting the imposition of these unjust laws.”

Read more: Backgrounder to NFU statement in solidarity with Indian farmers

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