Post season presentations, workshops and media!

Back in mid-October, I was interviewed via phone about the farm by Glenn Cheater, writing for the Canadian Farm Business Management Council.  We talked about why/how I got into farming and I sent him some pictures from the farm. You can see the results in the article “Farming their own way” in the December 2010 issue of the Canadian Farm Manager newsletter (go to link in blog title).

This year, I was also one of about 15 recipients of a $750 marketing grant from the Grey-Bruce Local Food Project which helped to pay marketing costs (signs, packaging materials, vegetable bins, printing and supplies, etc.). At the end of the season they hosted, along with the Grey Bruce Agriculture and Culinary Association, the Grey Bruce Local Food Summit in Owen Sound. All of us grant recipients spoke in a workshop about our farms/businesses and how our marketing worked out for the year. A big topic discussed by many at the event, was about the problem of efficient and cost-effective distribution of food products from the producers to local buyers (direct or retail). One of the stumbling blocks was that local restaurants/retailers/etc. were not necessarily willing/able to pay the higher prices for local food vs. foreign imports. This was not a shocking piece of news to any producers, but highlights the fact that though it’s currently popular in the media for people, retailers and restaurants to want to source local food, they’re not necessarily willing to pay the cost of that choice. The fact that our society expects low cost food is depressing, especially as a producer trying to make a living growing food. One day, we’ll all have to come to terms with what the true cost of food is and allocate our budgets accordingly. Hopefully local food production can survive until such a time ;P

In November, I also took the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP)workshop, run by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) on behalf of OMAFRA, which I found highly educational. Before this workshop, I hadn’t truly clued in to how contaminating industrial agricultural methods really are, and how the government is trying to get farmers to ‘voluntarily’ mitigate that contamination with cost sharing. I’m not sure what legislation there exists, if any, to get farmers to run cleaner operations. Apparently, the Grey Bruce region has a high rate of participation in the EFP, but it’s certainly not all farmers. Many river ways still aren’t fenced off from cattle (who stand in the river to drink and poop in there as well) and animal yards aren’t necessarily roofed to prevent un-treated/directed manure run-off (think Walkerton…). As an organic farmer, many of the environmental risks addressed in the workshop don’t apply to me at all so I’m applying with projects to improve my well (apparently, it needs to be completely above ground to be safe from surface water contamination), to plant windbreaks (silver maples, oaks and cedar along the road) and to buy seed for cover cropping. But it was very eye-opening to see how many costs of environmental protection need to be paid for by the farmers themselves. The cost of covering an animal yard to prevent manure run-off from rain/snow is upwards of $30-60K…half of which is paid for by the farmer. Given how little money many industrial farmers are making, I wonder what incentive/cash flow/borrowing is available to these farmers to make these changes to their operation…and the cost to society if they can’t afford these changes (again, Walkerton). And for those industrial farmers that are voluntarily cleaning up their operations, it seems to me that our society should acknowledge the heavy costs they pay and how much cleaner operations contribute to improving the environment we all live in. Of course, if all farms in Ontario followed organic principles, that would be the best for all…but I don’t live in that much of a fantasy world!

The applicaton process for EFP funding was itself quite crazy. Apparently, when the program was first funded in 1993, it was like pulling teeth to get farmers to participate, but now, it’s a race to get your applications in on time to access the government funding (which has decreased over the years). On Nov. 15, I had to go to my workshop leader’s house in Mildmay to join the many other farmers from my area in filling out the project application forms that would be mailed via Canada Post that night to get to the OSCIA head office in Guelph. It’s quite a sight to arrive at a farm house with a farmer sitting at every available seat at multiple tables/countertops and more waiting on couches for their turn at the writing surfaces. My workshop leader used to drive the application forms in to Guelph to be as far ahead in the queue as possible, but now all the various applications have to arrive by Canada Post to try and level the ‘distance to Guelph’ playing field. I don’t know yet if any of my applications have been approved, but I hope to find out soon so I know if I can go ahead with improvements to my well sooner rather than later!

This is the story of my journey into sustainable agriculture. From the streets of downtown Toronto, to the farm land of southern Ontario, I hope to discover the techniques and practices that work for me in both mind and heart.

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