31, 2003: The Christian Farmers Federation's vision
document proposes: "The establishment of a small charge
on the retail sale of food in Ontario to pay for environmental
services and joint farmer/consumer initiatives."
Last winter our workshops: "Planning for Action to Save
the Family Farm," evaluated this action plan. About 215
members and friends of CFFO participated in 19 sessions across
the province. They thought a levy on food was a good idea.
For most of the participants the concept was very new. Their
skepticism showed in their early questions: "We need
details. Who collects the levy? How will the money be distributed?"
In a conversation about barriers to getting support for the
levy, workshop participants identified consumers, farmers,
politicians and retailers -- -in other words, just about everyone--as
likely sources of resistance. Thirty-one percent thought consumers
would resist because they have more pressing issues and the
levy would be seen as just another tax. Twenty-five percent
thought that farmers themselves would resist since it would
make consumers more demanding; they expected vigorous squabbling
about who would get the environmental payments. Fourteen percent
thought that the other players would resist: the general public
because changing the status quo is a hard sell; retailers
because a farmer-consumer partnership could become a threat
to their control; and politicians because they would lose
some influence. It is proposed that a farmer-consumer partnership
-- not government -- control the funds raised by a levy.
These barriers did not dampen the conversation about opportunities
that a levy and environmental payments could create. Thirty-three
percent thought that the environment and the countryside would
be improved. Thirty percent thought that farmers would have
better incomes and a better public image. Twenty percent thought
that consumers would be empowered to contribute to the environment
and would gain from the development of a creative farmer-consumer
At the end of the session on the proposed levy, participants
were asked if they were "willing to pay a small levy
on food to create a new source income for farming and the
countryside." Eighty-nine percent said yes!
After just one discussion, such a high level of support from
farmers willing to personally pay such a levy was very telling.
Many caught the vision: a small levy on food has the potential
to be a powerful bridge between farmers and consumers -- a
strong enough bridge to balance the emerging economic clout
of those very few large food firms that control food between
the farm gate and the dinner plate. The idea had intrinsic
appeal to workshop participants. It is possible to believe
that such a bridge will hold a similar appeal to consumers.
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