The Olympics and Food Freedom Day
By Marg Land
Canada’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games have come and gone, along with the
country’s other top event that happened on Feb. 12, 2010 – Food Freedom
Day. Old news, you may say. But I want to touch on what the two issues
have meant to Canada’s horticultural industry.
Canada’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games have come and gone, along with the country’s other top event that happened on Feb. 12, 2010 – Food Freedom Day. Old news, you may say. But I want to touch on what the two issues have meant to Canada’s horticultural industry.
I admit, you don’t normally think of fruit and vegetable production in combination with the Winter Olympics. After all, one occurs when it is nearly impossible for the other one to take place and vice versa. But this year, cranberry growers in Richmond, B.C. came up with a “berry” cool way to combine their crop and the Olympic spirit. According to an article on CTV’s Olympic coverage website (www.ctvolympics.ca), a park in the city of Richmond became home to a huge set of Olympic rings, covering more than 3,000 square metres, constructed using 13 million cranberries. The fruit was donated by some of the area’s 60 cranberry farms.
Designers had originally hoped to float the huge rings in the Fraser River but the current proved to be too strong. Instead they moved it to the city park where it was on display when the Olympic torch came through.
According to the article, the growers were excited to be involved in the project and plan to recycle the cranberries as compost.
What a neat way to showcase your crop and your Olympic spirit! It would have been very interesting if all B.C. growers had become involved in the display – one ring could have been made of apples, another blueberries, another greenhouse cucumbers, etc. How about carrot rings? Onion rings?
Meanwhile, on the same day the world celebrated the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canadians were also marking Food Freedom Day, which, according to Margo Stainforth of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), certainly isn’t free for farm families.
“Food Freedom Day illustrates how much farm families in Canada subsidize food production through unpaid labour, off-farm jobs and high debt loads,” she stated in a press commentary. “Should we be celebrating the fact that farm families are underpaid?”
Good question. Food Freedom Day has been highlighted by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) for several years. It marks the day in the year when the average Canadian household has made enough money to pay for groceries for the rest of the year.
Both the CFA and the Ontario Federation of Agri-culture approach Food Freedom Day from a celebratory angle. “Farmers are very proud of their role in providing high quality food produced at the highest food safety and environmental standards,” stated Laurent Pellerin, president of the CFA, in a press release.
It was a sentiment echoed by OFA president Bette Jean Crews.
“Yet still Canadian consumers enjoy one of the most affordable food supplies in the world,” she said. “Ontario consumers can be confident that from farm gate to the table, the safety, quality and value of Ontario grown food is second to none.”
But the farming organizations also use Food Freedom Day as a gentle reminder to Canadian consumers that they’ve never had it so good when it comes to buying food. And that Canadian farm families are feeling the pinch.
For 2010, Food Freedom Day came 43 days into the year, the same as in 2009 but a bit later than previous years. According to the CFA, this is due to the effects of the recession on income and an increase in the price of food. And, while the price of food has been increasing, the amount that returns to the farmer has not.
“While the prices Canadian consumers pay for food have been steadily increasing over the past 30 years, the amount that returns to the farm gate is relatively small,” explains Pellerin.
A recent study commissioned by prairie producers showed that, on average, 27 per cent of the cost of a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four makes it back to the producer.
“It’s not that we are looking to increase the price of groceries,” says Stainforth. “We’re simply trying to ensure that the farmers keep their fair share of the consumer’s food dollar.”
According to some of the reader comments posted to CBC News, consumers aren’t really interested in paying more for their food. While one anonymous commentator blasted farmers for using sprays on their crops, instead advocating a return to a hunting/gathering (and starving) lifestyle, another reader warned that consumer financial resources are running dry.
“Just because Food Freedom Day falls 43 days into the year does not leave 322 days of disposable income to cover increases,” he/she states, advocating that it may be time to cut out the middle “meat” of the process.
Definitely food for thought.