A young farmer’s plea – support us by buying local food

Those of us in the farming community have known for a while now that hog farmers are facing financial difficulties and need help. Thanks to the efforts of many, even mainstream media have picked up on the crisis in the pork sector.

But although many use facts and figures to try to illustrate the point, to me, it’s the human aspect that really drives home the crisis affecting families on Ontario’s pig farms these days.

A prime example of putting a face to the story is a wonderful letter to the editor in yesterday’s Guelph Mercury from Stewart Skinner, a young hog farmer from Listowel, Ontario.

His passion for what he does and his frustration at what is happening to his family and his friends and neighbors is evident. But he’s also done a great job at explaining what the pork crisis means to us as average consumers and why we should care that there are (and continue to be) pig farmers in Ontario.

You can read Stewart’s words on the Guelph Mercury’s website – but I’ve also included them here:

Dear Editor – I am a pig farmer. I come from a family of pig farmers who have worked our whole lives to provide safe and healthy food for people in Ontario.

But my industry is sinking, and I want to tell you what that means.

Our farm, one of 2,800 pig farms in Ontario, is slightly smaller than the provincial average, and by global standards we are tiny. Yet, my family produces enough food to supply pork for almost 30,000 Ontarians every year. We contribute almost $800,000 into the local economy, and Ontario’s pig farmers are part of a $4.7-billion industry.

But this is about more than the numbers. Today, we are in a tailspin. Financial hardships have devastated pig farmers over the past three years; culminating with the problems related to the H1N1 virus. Misconceptions about the safety of pork and the inappropriate name “swine flu” have done untold damage to pork producers, and we are in grave danger of seeing farm families disappear because of the H1N1 crisis.

Here’s what it means if we go out of business:

If Ontarians cannot purchase pork produced in this province, they will be forced to consume a product that’s spent days on a truck while burning countless litres of diesel fuel on its way to market. Much of the imported pork will travel more than 1,000 kilometres before ending up in your local grocery store.

More family farms will disappear. The Ontario hog industry is dominated by small family farms such as mine, while many regions that currently ship pork into Ontario are controlled by large corporations.

Many rural communities will become more fragile. Southwestern Ontario is dotted with small towns that rely on agriculture to keep local businesses alive. The loss of local pig farms goes beyond simple economics; children from pig farms fill rural schools and join local sports teams, making farm families an integral piece of small-town Ontario.

It’s hard to describe in words my passion for farming. I get to wake up every morning and produce food for people. I love caring for animals and it is my hope that I can protect the environment around my farm for generations to come.

Ontarians can help preserve farms like mine by renewing their dedication to purchasing local pork. By doing so you are helping a group of individuals who produce pork that is among the safest and healthiest in the world.

Stewart Skinner, Listowel

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