John Varty will fire up a donated tractor on Friday in Prince Edward Island, pulling a mobile farmhouse behind him. So will begin a cross-country journey designed to probe the soul of the Canadian farmer.
A professor of history at McMaster University in Hamilton, he hopes to cut a swath through the debate that has reduced food production in Canada to warring stereotypes: the good guy (a plaid-shirted, organic-loving yeoman) and the bad guy (a grain-slinging, technology-wielding market conqueror).
“Canadian farms are still run by Canadian farming families – that includes most of the really big ones,” said David Sparling, chair of agri-food innovation and regulation at the Richard Ivey School of Business. “The skill level is increasing, no doubt about that. Farming is more complex than it was a decade ago. They understand global markets better … that’s become a more significant factor for them.”
The longevity of that mixture, farm advocates say, will determine the future of food production in Canada.
“We’ll have quarter-acre farms and 15,000-acre farms and we’re going to need them all,” said Christie Young, executive director of FarmStart, a national non-profit that works to train young and second-career farmers and support their enterprises.
“We need to make sure the system isn’t just set up for the consolidation of farming. … We won’t have the farmers to do what the local food movement is talking about,” she warned, adding: “People are starting to understand that if we’re … reconnecting with our food, we’ll see a healthier future.”.