Farms as Culture

Elizabeth May

I had a terrific weekend visit to the Perth-Wellington EDA, which is the area around Stratford, Ontario including St. Mary's and a lot of farm land. There is no better expression of Green Party values than a sustainable community, where people know their neighbours, eat locally grown food, and survive on an industry based on the productivity of a 17th century playwright. (For those of you who haven't had a chance to visit, the town is home to the annual Stratford Festival, an annual seven month-long Shakespearean festival that has been running since the mid 1950s.)

We toured the McCully family farm which the grandson of the original Scottish settler is now turning into a charity devoted to agricultural education. Dave Pullen is actually selling the farm to a land trust so it can be preserved as a charity, educating and exposing people to a mixed production farm -- Black Angus cattle, sheep, maple syrup, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks and more.

The visit raised all kinds of critical issues : the crisis in farming where most farmers now must earn the majority of income "off-farm," the barriers to growing and eating locally when the globalization of food production means that even when local apples are in season, the grocery shelves are stocked with Chilean apples (undermining local sustainability while fueling the climate crisis). The McCully farm also deliberately raises varieties of livestock now known as "rare breeds." Their Tamworth pigs are reddish brown and sleek. Bright eyed and long snouted, they are a species known to be able to forage, not a typical wallowing pig. (We had quite a good conversation.) The chickens and ducks were all of species now disappearing on farms.

The crisis of increasing mono-cultures is significant. Rare breeds mean genetic diversity. I learned this statistic nearly a decade ago from a great NGO called Rare Breeds Canada. It was that 90% of all dairy cows in Canada are Holsteins, and of that over 80% are bred from the same 12 bulls.Vulnerability to disease increases as genetic diversity spirals down.

Local food production is critical. Not everyone lives in cities, nor should live in cities. The Green Party challenge is to reach out to rural Canadians and ask what we can do to help their communities be more sustainable? How can we help? And how can we get urban Canadians to choose locally grown foods, embrace community shared agriculture and support those restaurants and small businesses that do the same.

The French government has argued in the WTO for years that its food production is an aspect of culture. Its individual cheeses from only certain villages from certain goats buttress the argument. Canada should be able to say the same. But first we have to treat our food production as a life-affirming exercise in growing good health and not an industrialized pursuit of ever cheaper, nutrition-deprived, over-packaged garbage masquerading as food.