I recently had the pleasure of attending a talk by Vandana Shiva at OISE in Toronto! What an inspiration this woman is. If you aren’t familiar with her work, she addresses a multitude of issues through her work with farmers, government and educators, including food security and sovereignty, the value of and need for diversity (including biodiversity), the harms that occur when seed varieties are patented, women’s rights especially pertaining to agriculture, and the interconnectedness of everything. I don’t think I can emphasize enough how absolutely COOL she is. Some of her books include Biopiracy, Monocultures of the Mind, and Staying Alive, among many others (all of which I have yet to read…any recommendations?)
The talk I attended was recorded but I haven’t seen a video online (yet), so here’s a video of a similar talk she did at U of T about a year ago. “In diversity and multiplicity lies reslience. Monocultures are highly vulnerable. We know that in ecology, but we also know that in culture. Wherever a monoculture starts to take over, intolerance sets in…Diversity is the very condition of freedom, of resilience, of democracy, of abundance, of creating a future.”
What an inspiring speaker. Although much of what she addresses is enraging, it’s very encouraging to know how much work is being done – successfully – to preserve a wide variety of crops and also to preserve the people’s ability to choose what they grow and eat. One of the first events in my life that sparked more awareness in me about GMOs and our food system was a talk at my school by Percy Schmeiser, who was being sued by Monsanto for “stealing” their GMO canola. He claimed their seed was drifting to his fields from neighbouring farms (he was surrounded by farms that grew Monsanto’s GMO canola.) CBC has a great article about the specifics of the case, which provides insight into the problems with patenting seeds.
I also attended the second day of the farm profits course recently. The second class was interesting in that we were each given time to assess our goals, and develop an action plan based on those goals (or on one ultimate goal). The instructor graciously brought some extra material for me since I’m a new farmer, and the course is more geared towards folks with existing farm businesses. Hopefully this will help get me where I want to be.
A point of interest for me during the course was being immersed in a group made up largely of conventional farmers. I haven’t been in such a group since my time at university, an experience that really pushed me away from this kind of farming. I spend a lot of time and energy discussing the harms of industrial farming, and I am a firm believer in developing better ways to grow food which require less chemicals and take better care of the earth (and thus ourselves). As you can see from Vandana Shiva’s talk that I linked to, soil degradation is a huge concern, among many others, so it only makes sense that we take proper care of the soil on which we depend in order to eat.
Being in a group of conventional farmers, I gained some more insight into the world of large-scale, non-organic farming. Many of these folks were not making much money from their farms. I think all of them have jobs off-farm, which is common in any stream of agriculture these days, unfortunately. It seemed like a main trend in the group was how challenging it is to acquire the necessary equipment to farm this way (for instance, a combine, or new technology for a “dairy” barn). I could not believe how much debt people were going into in order to farm this way. I expect that it really sets them up for a long tough run of trying to catch up money-wise. I was also hearing from farmers who had thousands of sows living in confinement situations, witnessing the use of the same euphemisms I heard in school (“100 head of beef” instead of “100 cows” for example), and from folks who were growing genetically modified plants like RoundUp Ready soybeans. Some folks mentioned spraying pesticides at night to avoid complaints from people living in neighbouring residential areas. On my way out I noticed a booklet published by OMAFRA entitled “deadstock disposal”, which depicted a dead cow in a dumpster (I assume this is one of their recommended “disposal” methods when animals die on farms. A life of forced servitude, credited by an unceremonious death to say the least – and you can bet they don’t die of old age. I once worked for folks who found a pile of dead pigs that a nearby farmer had dumped in a ditch on their property as a means of “disposal”.) I drove by many factory farms on my way to and from the course – just minutes outside of town there are plenty (buy local anyone?). I won’t pretend that this kind of environment felt good, though as individuals I enjoyed speaking with the other folks in the course, and appreciated their willingness to offer advice to one another (and to me as a new farmer). Some very generously even offered me pieces of their land to start up an experimental farm project of my own. I can only hope that options like organic farming methods become more realistic for a greater number of farmers in the near future, and that our food system can move in a more positive direction as a result.
I come away from the course with a bit more knowledge about handling a farm business (although the course was definitely geared towards commodity farmers, and not small-scale or organic farmers – it was run by OMAFRA after all) and with some more perspective on the “divide” that exists between these types of agriculture. Unfortunately, the goal I had in taking the course (which was to obtain cost-sharing for a farm business planning course next year) was not reached, as apparently the government won’t give money to me to cover the tuition until I have proof that I’m already running my own farm business. Seems backwards to me, that getting cost-sharing for a course in which I develop a business plan for my farm should only be had after I’ve started the business, but I’m going to explore my options and hope for the best. In the meantime, I’m dreaming of the day I overcome these many obstacles and all of this becomes possible.
Posted on November 17, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged factory farming, food sovereignty, GMOs, local farms, local food, seed patents, terminator seed, vandana shiva. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.