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 winter.
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
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
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 agriculture.
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
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