Ontario farmers reflect on the gifts they have been given
"Think about what you appreciate about Ontario agriculture. Share what you appreciate the most."

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham, Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable model for farming in the province. If you'd like to receive a transcript of Elbert's Corner Post address each week, send an email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message.

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Posted June 30, 2003: That was the first challenge in the "Planning for Action to Save the Family Farm" workshop series that the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario organized last winter. About 225 members and friends of CFFO participated in the 19 sessions across the province. What participants appreciated about Ontario agriculture varied widely. Many did not stop at identifying just one characteristic that they valued.

More than a quarter of participants (28%) expressed appreciation for the quality of farm life in Ontario. Retired farmers talked about love of the land and old tractors, about farm life being more than dollars, and the rural setting as a good place to live. Milk producers highlighted the freedom and independence to make their own decisions, and busy days filled with challenges and choices to improve productivity of land and cows, while having time to do other things. Beef producers talked about the great satisfaction that comes from the flexibility of doing - within reason -- what they wish, and about taking pride in the variety of work. It was important to them that farming is manageable as a part-time business that provides a peaceful and quite place to live - a place to unwind.

Another quarter of participants (27%) appreciated the quality of the business of farming in Ontario. Poultry producers gave credit to the diversity of Ontario's production and the supply management system for their optimism about the future. They emphasized the opportunity to be independent - in contrast to poultry producers in the US. Pork producers valued the challenge to be the best they can be, and depicted farming as a rewarding business that provided a good living. Grain crop producers described farming as an adventure: "a challenge to do my best" and "an opportunity to build up a business." Many liked being able to farm part-time and appreciated new opportunities in organic production. Horticultural producers talked about a love of the land, about seeing 'my' trees growing everywhere, and market opportunities a day's truck ride away. Ontario was described as a land of opportunity with fine soil, good weather, few crop failures, good infrastructure and close to big markets.

Good-sized groups of participants talked about the benefits of family farming (14%) and the beauty of the creation (15%).

Pork producers, retired farmers and sheep producers emphasized the farm as a wonderful place to raise a family. Children learn good work habits and grow into the business. Those involved in mixed farms and horticulture talked about the beauty of Ontario's abundant produce, the countryside and the miracle of each spring. Above all, they appreciated God's hand in it.

Ten percent of participants valued the farm community and the people involved in agriculture. Horticultural producers talked about the generosity of the farm community, the spirit of volunteerism and their enjoyment of the relationships they have developed with others. The Ontario farm community was described as proactive, progressive, cooperative, friendly and made up of good people with diverse opinions and viewpoints.

A small group of participants (7%) tempered their appreciation with concerns about agriculture's future. Some milk producers cherished freedom but were concerned about losing it. They hoped that Ontario would not become like Holland and its regulations any time soon. They talked about the high cost of land and quota and worried that we are losing our sense of community. Some beef producers raised concerns about the industrialization of agriculture, new subdivisions, huge hog barns and regulations taking the fun out of farming. In the words of one: "Big brother is starting to tells us what to do,"

Throughout the sessions, the level of appreciation for Ontario agriculture was high. Those who raised concerns about the high cost of getting into farming or the growing regulatory burden were few and in every case they expressed approval of the present but questioned how long the good times can continue.



Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post is archived on the website of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario: www.christianfarmers.org. To be added to the electronic distribution list of Corner Post, send email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message. To remove your name, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE as the message.