Portrait of a Family Farm – Stella Shepard and Reg Phelan
By Douglas Campbell – Doug is a second generation dairy farmer from Southwest Lot 16 where he farms with his wife Kathy, son Tristan, and nephew Tyler. Doug has been an active member of the National Farmers Union for the past 25 years, and is a strong advocate for family farms. He is currently the District Director of the NFU, Region 1, District 1.
In 2016, the world has a population of 7.4 billion with a projected annual growth rate of 1.7%. For the first time in history, more people live in urban centres than in rural communities. Governments see this as a positive, as services can be delivered at lower costs to denser populations. Rural communities and the economy of agriculture have slipped into the background of their planning, seen as negotiable for the good of the bigger economy.
“When tillage begins, other arts follow; the farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” -Daniel Webster, American orator
Agriculture and its farmers are the foundation of our modern economy. The beleaguered farmer has fed the nation.
The urban-rural ratio presents numerous challenges. For urban populations, the most pressing issues are affordable housing, transit and social services. There is little thought given to where food comes from.
But who is going to be able to efficiently, successfully, and affordably feed our massive urban populations? Who will protect the rights of all individuals to access quality food? Who is going to guarantee in a global economy that individual countries retain food sovereignty?
For nearly 50 years, the National Farmers Union has supported the family farm, based on the belief that it offers the best hope for food sovereignty and food security.
It is repeatedly stated that large agricultural corporations, based on economies of scale, can produce food more cheaply. If that is true, then why, according to Statistics Canada, have food prices in Canada increased faster than any other major component of the Consumer Price Index? Between January 2007 and December 2012, food prices rose by 19%, while all other items rose by 10.7%. Independent farmers did not benefit from that increase.
Under the corporate system, land becomes a commodity controlled by the highest bidder. Where will we be when only a few control the land base? They will dictate who eats and who doesn’t; what is produced and what isn’t. Corporations are about profits, not people. It will become the basis of social unrest.
A diversified family farm can be a more conscientious steward of the land. Single crop farming, often the method of big corporate farms, frequently results in the overuse of fertilizer, chemicals and water. The total cost to produce food rises as yields decrease. Costs are passed on to the consumer. As land is depleted so is the quality of the crop being produced.
The current PEI vision is one of producing one or two crops for the export market. And yet we know that monoculture presents environmental and pest management problems and leaves us open to the dictate of the markets. Government is selling PEI as a “Food Island” with even greater export potential.
Our local markets must not be overlooked. Why is the family farm disappearing, and what is disappearing with it?
Since the end of World War II, the federal government has had a cheap food policy believing that lower food prices could be achieved with greater efficiency on the farm. And farmers, in the hope of prosperity, have bought in. Policy makers kept pushing for bigger and bigger units and scales of economies, which gave corporations their foothold. They are now in the driver’s seat. The losers have been farmers and rural communities. It can be clearly seen in Prince Edward Island where rural communities are struggling.
As farmers decrease in numbers, so does their political influence. If food sovereignty is to become a reality, all Canadians have to become aware that it is in their interest to support independent farmers. If unfair trade agreements are going to be prevented and Canada’s food sovereignty protected, Canadians must become aware and voice their concerns to government. While Canada may be a trading nation, farmers’ profits and independence should not be used as a negotiating tool to sell more consumer goods to world markets. The family farm is not a quaint way of life that has outlived its usefulness. History has proven it is the backbone of this country and history always comes full circle.