Tractor crosses Canada to start conversation about family farms
Published Thursday, July 19, 2012 9:37AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 19, 2012 9:51AM EDT
Hamilton, Ont. couple John Varty and Molly Daley are driving a tractor across Canada to start a national conversation about the value of family farms.
Towing a small farmhouse to sleep, the couple began their journey in PEI and have so far made it to Winnipeg.
Along the course of their road trip, they are producing a documentary film about the state and condition of farming in Canada. Varty and Daley are interviewing farmers, politicians, members of the food movement, food company executives.
They feel so strongly that the stories of Canadian farmers need to be heard that they are giving up a year of work and income to make the journey and film.
Varty is a writer and university professor in agriculture and environmental history. He has taught at McGill, Yale, and most recently McMaster University. He was raised in Kingston on his family’s seven-generation farm.
“I come from a farming background in eastern Ontario,” Varty told CTV’s Canada AM.
“I’ve taught agricultural issues for a long time and I think it’s just too important to keep (this conversation) locked up in the academic world. It’s time to take these issues to a bigger world.”
Varty’s fiancée Daley is not from a farming background. She is from Florida and moved to Canada with Varty in 2008. She has a background in marketing and public relations, so it was easy for her to get excited about the tractor project.
The two hope to put real faces and stories to farming statistics that many Canadians might be familiar with but might not necessarily understand.
“We know there is a steady decline in family farms,” Varty said. “The number of farms we have are fewer and those farms are getting bigger. We are getting the human stories on ground about the pressures that make that trend real,” he said.
Farmers have been telling Varty and Daley about the day-to-day pressures that make family farming so difficult to maintain.
For example, a farmer told Varty about how regulators assigned a lower grade to his produce than he felt he deserved and what that will mean for his ability to compete.
A big story coming through in their conversations concerns the next generation of farmers and the fact that many young people may not be able to follow in the footsteps of their farming parents.
“The children don’t want to take on the farm – they either want to move to the city to make more money or the input costs are simply so expensive that they can’t afford to farm,” said Daley.
Varty added that many wouldn’t realize that many farmers work off-farm to support what some jokingly call their “farming habit.”
“That impacts on the whole family,” Varty said.
“Whoever is left at home to do the domestic chores and doesn’t get paid for is actually contributing to the farm business. They are farmers too.”
Varty said he hopes to raise awareness among city folk about where food comes from and the pressures associated with producing it.
“I dare say it’s the urbanites who need to be convinced that they need to start thinking about agricultural issues,” he said.
Varty, the former agricultural professor, said farmers are the best people to teach us.
“For now, I’m not teaching anybody anything. We’re letting the farmers educate people through their stories.