by Christine Milks
My nightmares now involve our food being controlled by corporations, especially foreign corporations, and how easily “we” have allowed this to happen. Some days, especially when I drive through our counties, I want to scream: “People, wake up! We can’t live without food.” I am saddened to have watched the demise of the (relatively) small family farms, mixed farming throughout Leeds-Grenville. Without getting into a lot of details as to farm size, crops grown etc., the 2011 Census showed an overall 9.2% decline in the number of farms in Ontario since the 2006 Census. Leeds-Grenville is slightly higher than the provincial average at 10.38%. I totally understand why many local farmers now only grow profitable cash crops, for instance. I don’t blame them in the least. I also don’t blame them for selling to the highest bidder so that the 100-acre farms of our youth have morphed into ten times that size in order to be “profitable”. In no way do I begrudge the operators profits. The only thing I do begrudge is how we, mortal beings who need food to survive, have not addressed the very real issues that have faced our traditional family farms.
I believe we, as a province, would be ahead of the game, probably actually save money and ensure a safe, reliable food supply, if we would only guarantee our family farmers a reasonable annual, personal income, a comfortable retirement income and a way of passing on the family farm without burdening the next generation. We all need the next generation, and the next generation after that, to be able to succeed, happy to farm, if we, literally, want to live. This is what I keep coming back to in my mind…live! We need food to live.
If our local family food producers can’t make what they define as a decent living, a comfortable retirement like their neighbours who worked for the civil service, public service, or big corporations, then why shouldn’t they sell off the family farm to the first multinational that comes along? Our next generation potential family farmer has probably been university educated, enticed by the money from working outside the ‘family farm’, lured by the bright lights and big salaries of our major cities and are aware, from first-hand exposure, to the downsides of a 24/7 existence on a hard-scrabble family farm in Leeds-Grenville.
I offer, outside of any discussions of supply management, as that is a separate topic, that we, as a province, should guarantee a minimum annual income to our small family farms of perhaps $80-100k, if that’s what our farm family feels they need. We should provide a guaranteed retirement income to the older generation and find an affordable way to pass these select small family farms on to the next generation.
You know, I am truly okay if my tax dollars allow the guy down the road who sold me fresh vegetables, sent animals to market, provided milk, eggs etc., etc. to winter in Florida if he wants, or to pass the farm untouched on to his son or daughter, because I know, at the end of the day, I will eat and thrive because this man and his family worked 24/7, faced unreliable weather and markets. These families have taken incredible risks. Isn’t it time for us, as a province, to back them up? We need a safe, reliable food source in Ontario, in Canada. I can’t rely on a multinational the way I know I can rely on my neighbour. Literally, our survival is at stake.
by Christine Milks