I have to confess. I get sad and frustrated when I see certain buzzwords created by the media, celebrities and activists to create fear and diminish consumer’s trust in agriculture. Buzzwords and phrases like “factory farm,” “industrial ag,” and “dousing crops with chemicals” are used to scare consumers into thinking there is something wrong with how our food is produced, that large farms are not sustainable, environmentally friendly, and that we don’t treat our animals with love and respect. These buzzwords are far from the truth.
I recently attended a conference where Lyndon Carlson, former Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer at Farm Credit Canada spoke to how agvocates need to be sharing our story or activists, using these buzzwords are spreading the wrong messages of how our food is produced. He touched on a topic that got me thinking: Modern agriculture isn’t what society thinks it is. People trust farmers, but not the agriculture industry, which is very disheartening to me. We’ve lost sharing our story to other families and people like the Food Babe, David “Avocado” Wolfe, and Dr. Oz are telling it for us.
Just like other businesses, so much has changed on our farm and in our industry since my grandpa farmed but our values and principles haven’t. Lyndon shared a few key points that I’ll expand on and share what they mean to me and how they apply to our farm.
Modern agriculture is…..
#1 – Family Farms
98% of Canadian farms are owned and operated by families and are likely passed on to the next generation. If our children farm, they will be the 4th generation to farm our land and that is worth fighting for. There are lots of different types of family farms. Some are smaller farms on acreages, others might have one or more family members working part-time or full time off the farm. Some might be larger and structured liked a corporation. Some are organic, conventional and even mixed. No two farms are the same. No matter the type, size or structure, we all produce safe food and help feed other families. We are proud that we are a family owned and operated farm. We enjoy working together (though some days are hard), and we couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
#2 – Caring for the land and animals
Taking good care of our land and animals is taking care of our business. It is our livelihood. Our goal is to raise healthy animals and produce safe, high quality food¹. We care for our land because we want the next generation, Jennings and Copeland to farm it. We know and understand that we have to put nutrients back into the soil and use certain practices that decrease soil erosion, reduce greenhouse gases and provide space for wetlands and wildlife. We take great pride in giving back to Mother Nature as we are thankful for what she gives us.
#3 – Research and Innovation (R&I)
Just like every other business, agriculture also has to keep innovating and all farmers employ technology of one kind or another. It is estimated that in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than we did in the last 10,000 years. That is no small task, but research and innovation in both conventional and organic practices are making a huge difference and I am very excited to see what the future holds. The possibilities and opportunities are endless in agriculture. I get frustrated when I hear others demand that our farming practices should match some type of version from an early era or that of a garden and are not aware that these practices will take more of our land and water resources and will only feed a few versus hundreds that we feed now.
Because of R&I, during a drought, farmers can still grow one of the fifth largest corn crops in U.S history. There are new markets to sell food to, new techniques for using less resources on more land, better precision equipment so applications (of seed, fertilizer and pesticides) are very targeted, and new seed genetics and technology for added nutritional benefits, reduction in food waste and production of life saving insulin.
A personal example of how R&I has impacted our farm is through the process of creating a new snack food using the barley produced on our farm and in Saskatchewan². If it wasn’t for scientists and companies researching the benefits of barley, developing new varieties and creating different ways to process this grain, I would never have had the opportunity to create Martin Munchies and help diversify our farm. We used barley that was micronized, a form of infrared baking which makes the barley crunchy and brings out a nutty flavour. I was able to learn so much from scientists, food processors, marketers, grocers and consumers and understand the food value chain once our crops left the field.
#4 – Organic and conventional
As you may know from my first blog post, I support all types of farming. I buy from our local butcher and farmer’s markets, from the organic section at the supermarket and also scope out deals at Walmart and Superstore. Why? Because we are privileged and have the opportunity to choose from so many different options. And you don’t have to choose sides. There is room for all types of farming practices to feed the world. I strongly believe it shouldn’t be an “us” versus “them” approach when discussing different farming practices. Where I step in is when it’s “accurate” versus “inaccurate” info. I get frustrated when misinformation and myths are spread when the consumer isn’t given more context to the whole story, especially about one type of farming practice.
While we were selling Martin Munchies directly to consumers at farmers markets and trade shows, I got to have lots of great conversations with people about our product and our farm. I very much enjoyed connecting with people, hearing their thoughts and ideas, answering questions and sharing our story. However, I found that on numerous occasions after I stated our farm was conventional, it didn’t matter what I said after about how and why we farm. These individuals automatically dismissed my opinions and assumed that because we are not an organic farm, we are bad farmers and don’t care about the land. I felt attacked, judged and belittled by a few individuals who haven’t visited a farm in decades, if ever for our production practices that have sound science, experience and environmental backing, and have invested (literally) blood, sweat and tears into our farm. It shouldn’t have to be black versus white. When I stand up for what I believe it, it’s not about putting others down. Big or small, organic or conventional, we choose how to farm based on the needs of our land, science and our values, traditions, beliefs, and experiences, just like others farmers. No two farms are alike. There are advantages and disadvantages to all production practices and we all bring something different to the table. My hope is that as an ag industry and as consumers, we respect each other’s choices: we farm based on our knowledge and experience and what our land and animals need, consumers eat based on their preferences, and we have meaningful, respectful and engaging conversations with each other.
#5 – Sustainability
This means something different to each and every one of us. To me, being sustainable is an ongoing process of caring for the environment and our natural resources, such as land, air, water and wildlife. We completed an Environmental Farm Plan a couple years ago to help us be more sustainable. Here are some of the things we are doing:
Water – we conserve water and use what we need through our dugout. We take on-going water samples to ensure our water isn’t contaminated with such things like algae.
- Wildlife – We have riparian habitats that help filter water and enhance the natural ecosystems. We haven’t cleared any trees on our land so wildlife have protection from the elements.
- Soil – we are a reduced to zero till farm. Reducing tillage limits soil erosion and helps to capture and store carbon in the air.
- Diversify – we use a 3-4 year crop rotation which helps to reduce diseases, insects and weeds and improve the soil structure and fertility.
- Recycle and Reuse – we recycle any item that can be accepted at our local recycling facility. We also try to find another use for items before they are recycled (such as reusing washed filters).
Modern agriculture is something that I am proud of. Yes, we may farm differently than our neighbour or from 100 years ago but it’s our family farm and heritage, our values and hard work, dedication, commitment and love of our land, animals and food that is the heart of modern agriculture. My request is while you’re reading articles or watching videos about where your food comes from and you come across buzzwords and phrases that you’re unsure of or seem to be alarming, ask a farmer. Come directly to the source, the experts. We would love to share our story with you and show you around the farm. Maybe even get dirty too 🙂
(1) – Our farm is a conventional grain farm and we do not raise animals. I respect those who raise animals and speak very highly of this type of farming wherever and whenever I can. I cannot speak to production practices used to raise animals but I can speak to what I have learned in many of the conversations I have had with farmers and that is the love and respect they have for their animals.
(2) – If you are wondering about Martin Munchies, we currently do not sell them at this time. If you would like to be notified if they become available for sale, please let me know. Thanks!