Guest post by Janine Lunn
I am happy to see that farming is gaining popular interest. It seems that lately agriculture has become sexy, and I’m relieved to see we’re graduating from the old image of men wearing striped coveralls, straw hats and chewing a stem of wheat. Many non-farmers are now keen to meet their farmer, understand the process of growing food, and read labels to see just how much of their food, fibre and fuel they can source from Canadian farms, and closer if possible.
With all this goodwill I would have thought the same thing would take place within the farm industry. However, there are some days I think it is just the opposite. As farms become more specialized by region and commodity, it is more common now for farmers to have very little knowledge of what their peers are producing, and how, down the road, much less across the country.
I spend a certain amount of time on social networking sites to keep up on agricultural news and see what trends are developing. I notice a lot of farmers on twitter especially, sharing tips and tricks on new equipment and technology, solutions for pesky insects and commiserating on the weather. Sometimes though I see a dangerous theme creeping into conversations. It can be best described as farm-shaming. And just like the mommy-wars, and fat-shaming, I think it’s a destructive kind of competition.
What does farm-shaming look like? What I see is people setting an arbitrary size, management-style or type of farm and declaring that as “normal,” so others who don’t resemble that cookie cutter don’t fit in. I suppose it depends a lot on how people define themselves as being a farmer that determines whether others fit their world view. There are still the humble folks who will say each time they are introduced “I’m just a farmer” and quickly fade into the background, and others who are loud and proud, happy to disclose acres, statistics, yields, twitter handles, public debates; the whole works.
I was struck while talking to one of my local directors at the Ontario Federation of Agriculture convention recently, that the most rewarding part of his day had been connecting with a farmer from Eastern Ontario who had a completely different soil base, mode of production and everyday life from the farm scene in Southwestern Ontario. I couldn’t help but wonder if more farmers could benefit from this type of information exchange; to try to understand that everyone is making their farm work with the means they have, in a different way.
For one person, farming means squeezing in chores to feed beef cattle before and after a shift at the plant, and for another it is a huge expanse of cash crop acres with all the paperwork and employees required to keep things moving, and for another farming means a couple of acres to grow berries and vegetables, and packing up to spend weekends at the market in town to share their story and shake the hand of every customer they serve.
The longer I work with and know farmers, the more I realize that there are about as many different ways to farm as there are people who choose to farm. And there are plenty of people besides that who would give their left arm to leave their tiny lot in town for just a tiny patch of land so they too, could call themselves a farmer. Instead of pitting farmers against farmers, it would be refreshing to see us stand up for each other more often. If we have any hope of making the farm voice heard, we would do well to speak up for ourselves, but in the process, also take the time to speak up to support each other.
— Janine Lunn lives with her family on a mixed farm in Elgin County. When she is not driving between meetings for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture she can be found writing, reading, occasionally running on the back roads, and trying to find the match for her children’s barn boots. Twitter: @jlunnofa.
This post was originally written for ‘Elgin This Month,’ a Metroland publication.