It was a long and sorrowful drive home in September as I travelled to say the final goodbye to my dad.
He was a man of honour, integrity and faith — and will remain forever our farmer and gentleman. It is men like him who along with their partners carved out a living strictly from farming. And for those of you in food production now, you know how difficult and challenging that can be.
As I drove with a picture of Dad and a bundle of roses accompanying me in the passenger seat, I thought about my love of the land and of the farm and the respect I have for the men and women who tend to the fields, flocks, greenhouses and waters that grow our food. The cranberries and corn were being harvested, early calves were starting to be brought down from the grazing slopes and the combines were running.
It is in this space that life begins and ends. We grow food from the earth and the sea and later return the trash — and our bodies — to it. This is in itself, a perfect ecology.
- More with Brenda Schoepp: Is curiosity something that has taken root on your farm?
Distressing to me was the overflow of buildings that covered our best farmland. And I began to think of how we have moved away from the centre of the plate and our understanding of what it takes to sustain life. Could it be that we have it all backwards and that progress is actually ensuring a farmer or fisherman is well paid? Certainly, this merits discussion.
In respect for the work done by men and women who like my father toiled endlessly and without complaint, we need to revisit the very definition of progress and of success. While it is true that innovation has certainly helped farming — man’s need for “things” has broken the chain that ensures the well-being of all.
Take, for example, the nomadic tribes that know where water was and when. By constantly moving, they fertilized the land without overgrazing it and left in place the empowered root. In society’s quest for money and belongings, these tribes are now centralized and countries that once flourished with food are now dependent on imports that may or may not reach those who need it.
The production of food is the spark of a civilization. I grieved for the soil as I passed some of the most productive land in the delta of the Lower Mainland on through to Stony Plain to some of the deepest black soil on Earth. Both places were covered in industrial buildings and urban sprawl. In between those spaces, the hills were barren from logging or twinkled — not with stars but streetlights.
We all need someplace to live and someplace to call home. And yes, there is merit in industry. But why on the productive land?
I envisioned a balanced social profile that included the protection of food production, adequate housing and lots of green space. Could we start again and do so by ensuring that the land, space, water and place that grows food is assured and may forever do so?
If COVID has taught us anything, it is the value of food and the importance of family.
Our weaknesses have been laid bare. We can have all the technology in the world, the biggest equipment and the widgets to play with, but we cannot live without food and relationships. I suggest that productive land should be used only for the maintenance of life — food and food services, health and medical supplies and services.
Farms are pressured to go up in vertical structures and to increase output because of the shortage and the cost of land. The same pressure should be applied to industry. Why is it that the farms that feed and clothe, medicate and transport, sequester and regenerate have to squeeze in, move up or move out when they are the foundation of civilization?
Think about this in terms of the future.
The men and women who came to Canada to carve a living from the land and those here first who knew how to harvest it by nature did so because it was the land of opportunity and had the potential to be the jewel of community, national and global food production. We should not be selling that dream or knowledge short with the fields, forests and seas that are left by ignoring their value.
The game is long and our timelines on Earth short. Dad built from humble beginnings and I encourage others with the same courage and vision to do so. We can have food security in Canada and we can be the jewel of food production, but only if agriculture and food is at the centre of the plate at all political levels.
Say what you will about progress or success, but the empowerment of a society starts with food at the table.
For it is food that brings us together, maintains our health, nourishes our minds and fuels our dreams. And it is the farmers of land and sea who bring us this gift.
Thank you, Dad.