Spring, farmers and the lure of the land

The following column I wrote was published in the Guelph Mercury yesterday.

We were sitting on the deck with the dog as I was musing about the topic of this month’s column. My husband jokingly suggested I write about the relationship between man and his dog. I laughed it off — what did that have to do with food, farming and farmers? Not much, but as I thought about it some more I did start to see some parallels between the strength of that relationship and the one between farmers and their land.

It’s the promise of longer days and warmer temperatures that gets most of us through the cold, dark and snowy winter days. And now, the smell of spring is in the air. The sun is setting later, temperatures are climbing upwards bit by bit and, gradually, that elemental pull to the land is reawakening in our farmers.

Across Ontario they are getting ready to plow, till, plant and nurture – all with the goal of bringing an abundant and healthy crop to market this fall, one that will provide us with food and a host of other products upon which we depend in our daily lives.

Of course, this always begs the question of how we can do this not only profitably but also sustainably and responsibly. The world’s population is growing and there remains little land that we can pull into agricultural production that we haven’t already and where destruction of sensitive lands and wildlife habitats wouldn’t be the trade off.

A presenter from the World Wildlife Fund spoke in Guelph recently about this very subject, about how we all need to do more with less.

To this environmental group, that means producing more food to feed more people using less water, less land and less of our resources. That’s a tall order but for the first time ever, the WWF is also embracing the use of modern science and biotechnology to achieve that goal.

This is a significant change in thinking for this organization, whose voice is a powerful one in the world of environmental advocacy, wildlife protection and habitat preservation.

And yet, when it comes to food and farming, Canadians feel that our farmers are on the right track.

Not only are we seeing the local food movement taking root across the country as more of us embrace the concept of reducing our carbon footprint and supporting the farmers in our own communities, but a recent survey by Ipsos Reid suggests evidence that is more than anecdotal.

A study measuring Canadian attitudes toward farming showed that more than half of non-farming Canadians have a positive or very positive impression of Canadian agriculture, a figure that has increased by 10 per cent since 2006.

We also learned that Canadians identify very strongly with concerns of weather and climate change when they were asked about what they thought the most top-of-mind issues were faced by farmers.

Those are some of farmers’ top concerns every year as well when it comes to growing crops.

Perhaps this means we are all farmers of some sort at heart. After all, no one loves talking about the weather more than we do and on the whole, Canadians are also passionate about growing things.

Anyone who’s ever tried to grow some carrots in the backyard, tomatoes on the patio, geraniums in a balcony box or an African violet on a window sill can relate to this.

Farming is a tough business – the hours are long, the work is hard and no matter how much we wish it weren’t so, the success of an entire season can ultimately be at the mercy of Mother Nature and her sometimes unpredictable whims.

But there’s that love of the land and that urge to work with sun, soil and water to coax a healthy crop from the fields that connects people to nature in a way that can indeed be as strong as the bond between a man and his dog.

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