March 15, 2017

Food, Common Ground for the Common Good

A Canadian success story

Our relationship with food is very personal and for good reason. Food is survival, yet the majority of Canadians have little-to-no idea about how the food we consume at home, in restaurants and out of bags in our cars is produced. It’s fair to ask whether the public and our food producers should even care about this knowledge gap. In fact, there are a lot of reasons to care and reasons to communicate the importance of a Canadian industry that works behind the scenes to put food on Canadian tables. Canadian growers and manufacturers have generated a success story all their own; a story Canada can be proud of. It needs to be told.

Those delicious Canadian blueberries? Canadian blueberry growers have made Canada the world’s largest producer. But blueberries are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We’re also the world’s largest producer (and exporter) of flaxseed, canola, pulses, durum wheat, peas, lentils and mustard seeds – all quality Canadian products we take for granted when we slip a package of Canadian grown and produced durum pasta into our grocery carts. More than once in a while let’s give Canada’s 206,000 growers on farms a high five for producing quality products sought the world over.

Care and communicate

Real-time communication between food producers and consumers will likely put a dent in any romantic, and likely dated, view of the Canadian producer. And if it does, good, that’s a start in recognizing a successful industry that contributes in a big way to the economy. Canadian agriculture is happening on some 205,730 farms (2011 census) comprising 167 million acres of Canadian farmland. Still, why care, why tell the story? Because everybody likes a success story and Canadian agriculture is full of them. The link between the food consumer’s pocketbook and agriculture is also worth noting. Canadians spent $195.7 billion on food and beverages (and tobacco) products in 2014. Food currently represents the second-largest household expenditure category, after shelter (Ag Canada). To the consumer’s advantage, the share of household expenditures spent on food has decreased since 1997 in Canada (Stats Canada).

The big disconnect

Even in our ultra-wired world, the complexity of agriculture is an enigma to the very people who depend on it for food. This vast industry is referenced, if referenced at all, simply as – farming. Few of us when we take our seats at the dinner table have any idea of the research, seed technology, soil science, biochemistry, advances in seeding and harvesting technology and software that may be represented in the slice of perfectly textured Canadian produced bread slathered with our favourite Canadian produced jam. Appreciation of a tasty end product is everybody’s prerogative, fair enough, but perhaps it’s also worth acknowledging that our advanced state of agriculture is science and research based and generates a whopping $70 billion in economic activity (2014 Ag Canada). Impressive for an industry few Canadians know much about.

The food origin disconnect is perpetuating misconceptions about our on-farm food producers and what they actually do. However, there is light at the end of the misinformation tunnel. In a survey by Farm and Food Care Canada 59 percent of those surveyed said they wanted to know more about agriculture. Paving an information highway between food producers, related industries and the public will offer Canadians a better understanding of the complex systems that put food on the table. What’s more, on a different level, it’s only reasonable and right to give agriculture credit where credit is due – and communicate it.

History in the making

Members of the general public probably aren’t interested in taking a deep dive into soil science, but uncovering a common connection to agriculture will stir up interest. Most of us, Stats Canada reports, are three maybe four generations removed from the land. There is common ground here between producers and consumers. Perhaps we’ve discovered a yellowed photo of a great grandfather standing with his team of horses, but do we know what he did, how he lived, what contributions he made in his lifetime? Generating a healthy curiosity about food can prompt similar questions about producers and their families working in agriculture today. These are our stories, and once shared, will connect agriculture more closely to the world it serves. Canadian agriculture is a story that deserves to be told.