Interviews with conventional farms

Farmer Joe’s Hot Day, Scholastic, 1987

Conventional farming

If society is to make a widespread shift towards a more sustainable, more localized and less corporate food system, two groups of people will need to be involved: food advocates (people who care about and promote better food), and average farmers (people who have the means to actually grow significant amounts of food). A key task in changing the food system is bringing these two groups, which are now largely estranged, together.

In the food advocacy camp, “conventional” is generally considered a bad word. Conventional farmers are more or less the opposite of organic farmers, and so there’s plenty of wagging fingers pointed in their direction. At worst they are portrayed as people who torture animals and douse their crops with cancer-causing chemicals.

But what if we put aside the stigmas about “factory farm” animal treatment and the use of pesticides in favor of open dialogue with average farmers? Without sidestepping the problems of the agricultural status quo, we see value in understanding the challenges, dilemmas and risks faced by average farmers, and working toward cooperative relationships with them. – Eds.

Interview 1: Marg Rempel. By Jennifer deGroot
Interview 2: Glenn Stucky. By Jesse Nathan.
Interview 3: John Williamson. By Caitlin Neufeld.
Interview 4: Dana Ekey. By Robert Francis.

Interview one: From the farm

On the problems with conventional agriculture:

Society in general does not respect food. You know that from the way we treat it. We eat too much of it, we throw it out, we don’t care if 80 percent of our diet comes from 5,000 miles away. There isn’t respect for food and consequently I don’t think there’s very much respect for food producers.

We’re down to two percent of the people producing food for all of society, which just encourages the disconnect. It’s too bad we weren’t at least 20 percent of people directly involved in food production, I think that would really help…

My dentist doesn’t need to get a second job. My kid’s grade five teacher doesn’t need to get a second job. My mechanic doesn’t need to get a second job. Why do I need to get a second job in order to feed my community?

Excerpt of an interview with Marg Rempel, a grain and hog farm on the Canadian Prairies. Interview by Jennifer deGroot.

Interview three: From the farm

On the fact that the conventional agricultural system seems to be working better for the large chemical, seed and fertilizer companies than for farmers:

There’s no doubt that’s a true statement. This year when the price of grain and corn jumped, automatically the price of seed and fertilizer went up. As soon as a big company sees I’m going to make a profit on my corn they’re going to put the input cost up. The only way you get out of it in my mind is to give farmers more purchasing power. The chicken egg producers, for instance, are making a reasonable living and they can do that because they have the bargaining power. The rest of us are at the mercy of these corporate giants.

Any type of a co-op would help. Most beef farmers are traditionally free market believers, but the free market has really failed us. The problem with it is that you make the assumption that everyone is going to play with the same rules. But when you look at what’s happened in the US – border closures, etc. – fairness doesn’t enter the equation. In the US, their idea of free trade is that everybody in the world should be free to trade with them under their rules, and if they don’t win they get to change the rules.

Excerpt of an interview with John Williamson, a grain and beef farmer in Ontario. Interview by Caitlin Neufeld.

Interview four: From the farm

On consumer concern about conventional farm practices:

Well, I don’t blame the consumers for feeling that way because I don’t think they’re informed enough to make the most educated decision. They see these clips on YouTube from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) that show one farm that might not treat their animals the best way and they think that every farm is like that. If we take them around to the actual farms – the conventional farms that are using good management practices – they might change their mind. [Our farm is] not a big factory farm like some people might think of.

Excerpt of an interview with Dana Ekey, who works on the family dairy farm in Pennsylvania. Interview by Robert Francis.

Issue 8

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 8, Winter 2007, The Future of Food in an Urbanized World.

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