Brood in the Barn!
I haven’t talked a lot about my reasons for coming into this internship or being interested in organics so far. Events like this and the CRAFT days are what really drive home, for me, how important a change to our food system (among other things) is.
A couple years ago someone explained to me the difference between charity and social justice work, and since then I’ve become much more aware of how certain actions help and hinder when it comes to making positive change. Food banks are a temporary solution to hunger, though they’re essential for many many people. Examining the reasons why people don’t have easy access to resources like healthy food (unhealthy, processed food is usually the cheapest), and working to reduce and eliminate those barriers, is a more sensible solution in the long run – and should include a lot of direction and involvement from the people who experience poverty, because they know what is needed. The Stop has a food bank as well as programs that educate and empower people to grow their own food and learn how to prepare balanced and healthy meals. They do this by encouraging people from communities in need to be involved with the organization. Often people in positions of power are unable to assess the needs of communities they are trying to serve, creating a paternalistic approach that keeps them from affecting the change that’s needed. By giving decision making power to people whose needs are trying to be met through their programs, there’s a better understanding of the issues at hand, and people in marginalized communities are empowered to create their own positive change and have their voices heard.
Aside from all this, the collaborative organizing of places like The Stop brings people together who may otherwise be isolated and alienated from their own communities or from society at large. There’s a parallel here with organic food production, too: smaller scale producers who are not following an industrialized model face challenges such as access to relevant education and government subsidies. As a result, people in this field tend to work together to problem solve and share skills, and a much stronger sense of community is forged. Industrial agriculture is very individualistic in that things are done the same way across the board, so no collaboration is needed and producers are often trying to outcompete each other. At our marketing panel on Wednesday’s CRAFT day there was mention of this numerous times – for instance, if customers wanted a CSA share from an organic farm but the farm they contacted had already sold out, or was far away from the customer’s home, the farmer would pass along contact information for other CSA farms in the area that the client may want to buy a share from instead. At events like the Organic Conference that the U of G hosts every year, farmers and others in the field can network and learn from one another, which is extremely valuable for small farms. At our farm we have tools that were bought from neighbouring farmers who developed and built them; we get compost from another nearby organic farm to enrich our soil; we rent land to people who want to grow grains or other crops but don’t have their own land. There’s less of a sense of competition and more one of collaboration, because these farmers know one another and want to see each other do well.
I’m glad to have realized this thanks to my one lone organic agriculture credit, the class I took during my last semester at university. After years spent in a program where classmates barely spoke to one another and high production efficiency at any cost was the only goal we were told to work toward, it’s refreshing and inspiring to be in an environment where people are so clearly passionate about their work and interested in sharing their experiences. Organic farming may largely be about preserving biodiversity, growing healthful food, and conserving the small (and shrinking) amount of excellent farmland we have in southern Ontario, but a major part of it is also about creating and nurturing strong relationships, and that is something we’re very much in need of.
On top of all this, events like the one this weekend gives us farm people a chance to get together and relax!