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Was B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association’s passive protest positive or passé?

November 30, 1999  By Marg Land

I have a grudging respect for French farmers (in this instance, French farmers, meaning farmers from France); those guys and gals can be completely nuts!

I have a grudging respect for French farmers (in this instance, French farmers, meaning farmers from France); those guys and gals can be completely nuts!

Just scan the European headlines from the past few years and you can learn all about their antics: setting bales of hay on fire along the Champs Elysées; grazing more than 100 head of sheep on the grounds around the Eiffel Tower; dumping more than 100 trailer loads of soil along the main street of the west central French city of Poiters; transporting 8,000 plots of soil and 150,000 plants plus herds of livestock into downtown Paris and creating their own farm along three-quarters of a mile of the Champs Elysées; pouring gallons of milk into the streets; blocking traffic with dairy cows; burning piles of tractor tires in the streets; forming go-slow convoys of thousands of tractors to snarl Paris traffic for hours.


These farmers know how to protest and seem to have no problem gathering 40,000 like-minded people to rally on their behalf. And they’re not afraid to throw a few punches either. During a protest against GATT in the 1990s, French and Swiss farmers attacked police with both their fists and bottles.

Plus politicians take notice. During a spring 2010 protest by 10,000 angry grain farmers in Paris, French agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire told French radio his government was willing to negotiate with the farmers, stating they were willing to be “flexible” with European Union rules. The government was also planning to offer low-interest loans, tax relief and even curb environmental regulations to keep their producers happy.

You have to have a certain amount of admiration for people who can lay it all on the line like French farmers can. It’s an atmosphere and mindset not necessarily seen here on this side of the Atlantic – a land of excuse me, pardon me, my apologies, and thank you. (It took a visit to Israel in my 30s to show me what true rudeness can look like but I’ll save that experience for another editorial. I’ll give you a hint: it involved a lineup at an ATM machine).

Here in Canada, past farm protests have failed to bring out the people, spur political action or gain support from the populace. My guess is we’re just not socialist, militant or crazy enough. We just do things differently here.

A case in point: Last spring, B.C. apple producers were facing a crisis. The 2009 fresh crop was below average, thanks to an early freeze the previous October, and the market was being saturated by fruit being shipped north from Washington as packers tried to sell off apples that couldn’t stand up to long-term storage. The Canadian dollar was rising and profit margins were disappearing. Emergency grower meetings were held and the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) executive was given a mandate to appeal to the B.C. government for Agri-Recovery claims for freeze-damaged apples plus financial assistance for growers. The group was also directed to approach the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) for support of a special federal payment and investigate a long-term solution of regulated marketing. Neither approach worked and they were denied support altogether.

But, instead of saying thanks for nothin’, the BCFGA tried a different approach – they took the growers’ plight to the public through “passive protest.”

“The executive undertook a series of apple sales where apples were sold for the average returns growers were receiving at the time for the 2009 crop,” explained BCFGA president Joe Sardinha in his 2010 Executive Committee Report. “Kelowna, Abbotsford and Victoria farmers’ markets played host to the efforts of the BCFGA to educate the pubic on the severity the crisis and build support for B.C.-grown apples. There was tremendous response from the public to the 12 cents per pound apple sales and high media interest in this new style of campaign.”

The public support did not go unnoticed by the provincial government. In early July 2010, the BCFGA was presented with a $5-million funding commitment from both B.C. and the federal government.

“Although this was not the direct assistance to growers we had originally requested, the funding will help the industry move forward in the area of infrastructure innovation, marketing, value added and IPM,” said Sardinha, adding that, because there was no direct assistance for growers, the 2010 growing season had been a financial challenge for many apple producers.

So, was the BCFGA passive protest a success or a failure?

According to Sardinha, the hard work did not go unnoticed and the farmers’ markets campaign provided proof of something else.

“The ‘buy local’ movement is not just a passing fad and there are new opportunities for the industry to do more direct promotion to consumers,” stated Sardinha. “There is a growing appetite for local, safe, fresh, high-quality, nutritious and healthy food, and an opportunity to build greater consumer loyalty to drive demand for B.C. leaf brand fruit.”
I’d call that a success. And no apples were thrown, carts overturned or cider spilled. How Canadian.

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