31, 2002: What trends contribute to the weakening
of farming in Ontario? Farming's declining share of the consumer
food dollar was rated the highest by the participants in the
"Gearing Up for a Better Future" workshop series
organized by the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario last
Eighty-eight percent agreed strongly (68%) or somewhat (20%).
About 250 members and friends of CFFO participated in the
18 sessions across the province.
Dig a little deeper into trends that are weakening Ontario
agriculture and the conversation inevitably turns to commodity
agriculture and the drive to become more efficient in order
to live with lower prices.
Commodity agriculture has been a driving force in Ontario
agriculture for decades. It has held back many other approaches
to farming with its willingness to live by the law of the
jungle, externalize environmental and community costs, push
the technology treadmill still faster and preach free markets
and open trade while constantly begging for production subsidies
in the form of cash, infrastructure, research and regulations.
Commodity agriculture has survived, in part because it has
been willing to accept some civilizing, some formalizing.
Think of best management practices, livestock management guidelines,
nutrient management plans, quality assurance programs and
environmental farm plans.
Change is afoot. Consider the growing list of approaches
to farming that have emerged in the past decades: community
supported agriculture, diversified and value-added agriculture,
lifestyle agriculture, organic agriculture, supply managed
agriculture, sustainable agriculture and voluntary stewardship
They are more than surviving. They are growing. Commodity
agriculture's ability to dominate has been undercut.
That is a good thing. The door is open for a new vision for
Ontario agriculture. CFFO's emerging vision is: Farming in
Ontario will be diverse and integrated into a full range of
human and natural activities--family life, community culture,
economic development and natural habitat-on a scale that enhances
countryside and is sustainable.
Is this vision worthy, workshop participants were asked?
Seventeen percent of participants expressed doubts about this
vision. They were skeptical about success, defensive about
the status quo or flagged consequences that troubled them.
But sixty-five percent agreed that this
vision was worthy, many without hesitation (30%) and some
(9%) out of a sense of "I see no other choice."
A small group (8%) supported the vision but in the same breath
asked for details and practical next steps. Nineteen percent
applauded the vision and added a "but" or a worry
about its implications. We are ready to stand up to