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Looking to the future

Well, by the time you read this column, the federal election will be complete and, m

April 1, 2008  By Marg Land

Well, by the time you read this
column, the federal election will be complete and, most likely, a new
Minister of Agriculture appointed.

Well, by the time you read this column, the federal election will be complete and, most likely, a new Minister of Agriculture appointed.

I wonder who will be in power, whether it’s a majority or a minority (most likely) and where that man or woman who has taken on the agriculture portfolio hails from – the West or the East.


And I wonder what on earth are we going to talk about until it is time to hit the fields? Of course, it’s highly unlikely we’ll be at a loss for topics to discuss. There’s always some new issue on the horizon these days, especially in agriculture, and lots of opportunities to dissect them and try to resolve them.

As I write this editorial, I am also preparing to spend three days taking part in the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers’ annual conference. There, issues such as developing a processing vegetable industry strategy, promoting increased vegetable consumption for improved health, global market competition and how to manage vegetable waste will be discussed, among other things. Then, in just under a month, I’ll be off to the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Convention, where issues such as adapting agriculture to climate change, succeeding in a global marketplace, the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) will be discussed at great length. A few days later, it’s time for the Innovative Farmers’ Association of Ontario’s annual conference where issues such as alternative energy sources, Canadian agriculture’s role in world markets, farm diversification and business expansion will be dissected, discussed and, possibly, resolved. And, of course, in March it’s the Canadian Horticultural Council’s annual meeting where the hot issues affecting the country’s fruit and vegetable industries will be debated.

So, to see an industry that many in North American society see as a public “problem” rather than a public “good” work so hard and proactively to deal with the problems and issues facing it but receive so little public assistance and support, is frustrating to me, someone who was raised on a farm, in a farming community and continues to serve it. I recall practically foaming at the mouth as I argued with a college economy professor over the important role agriculture plays in Canada’s economy. He was of the
opinion that the country should consider moving away from producing its own food and concentrate on more technological industries, somewhat similar to Japan’s philosophy (which, I pointed out quite vehemently, was an expensive one based on a lack of fertile land resource rather than a calculated choice by the populace). Of course, there was no winning (although I did end up with a great final grade in that course).

It’s tough to educate a customer base that believes its meat is somehow magically produced in the back rooms of the grocery store, that Canadian strawberries should be on the market in February and that new potatoes can be stored for three months in the crisper. But I do believe it’s possible through personal stories and experiences. I can recall keeping an entire dorm room of city-raised students mesmerized by a description of life on a farm in rural southwestern Ontario, where there was only 10 channels that came in clear on the TV antenna, where there was no pizza delivery, where you actually did chores in a barn before and after school and where, if we wanted a salad, we went out to the field and picked the ingredients. You could have heard a pin drop.

Perhaps the key to increasing the buy-Canadian philosophy of fruit and vegetable marketing is to meet the consumer face-to-face. Tell your family’s and farm’s stories, explain the work and effort that went into that flat of strawberries or bushel of spuds. Help open people’s eyes to the realities of Canadian agriculture in the 21st century and maybe that will help them open their wallets.

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