Monday, 18 March 2013


The challenge of change in a seemingly immovable food system can be daunting.
Yet many people are well aware of the potential for a complete collapse of global food supplies.
There is no single cause, but it could be a single catalyst that brings catastrophe.
Community organizations everywhere are working to improve the integrity of the food supply chain.
Many of the problems are clear.
Many of the solutions are apparent.
But a system stuck in the status quo appears stagnant.

Yet change is underway.
Subtle in some places and more determined in others.
I travelled to Vermont with David Bathe to see success in action.
There we attended the 9th annual Grain Growers Conference,
to see what they are doing in the North-Eastern U.S. to re-establish diverse grain production.


The men and women of the Northern Grain Growers Association represent family run, small scale, predominently organic agriculture.
Many of the challenges they face are similar to ours here.
They are up against a massive agroindustrial complex and a nation addicted to processed food.
With the ardent belief that they represent a better future, the growers have been working together to increase yields, efficiency, and foster a fledgling market for healthy alternatives.

The fact is that they and others like them throughout the U.S. are succeeding in growing new markets and demonstrating the superiority of organic agriculture.
Using a collaborative approach instead of competition to drive innovation, these farming families exemplify social responsibility and gritty self-determination.

Dr. Stephen Jones spoke passionately about growing crops where they are most suited and not necessarily where they have been traditionally grown.
He spoke of using plant breeds suited to specific regions instead of planting what the seed companies are peddling.
His motivation is driven by the farmers, the consumers, the land and the people.
He believes that conventional agriculture is going in the wrong direction.
He believes that the true American heroes are the farmers who provide food for the nation.

Klaas Martens talked about his experiences developing the market for ancient grains and organic produce.
He has real and practical experience forging the infrastrucure necessary for dealing with grains such as Spelt, Einkorn, and Emmer.
He spoke of how, in his early years, the local organic farmers were more than willing to share their knowledge even if it meant sharing the market.
But they all found out that when they increased their production capacity,
the market was only too willing to grow with them.
It's a stark contrast to the usual secretive practices of corporate farming.

Each of the presenters brought with them stories of hope and success.
Even after decades of farming in defiance of the standard model these people have persevered.
The message is that it may seem impossible at first, but there is help.
But there is no helping hand from government.
Innovation and enterprise are the responsibilty of the individual.
The difference between the small scale farmer and the food industry is accountability.
Communities depend on family, friends, and neighbours to work together for the common good.

In a country that continues to be gripped by the red scare,
the corporate model has neglected to understand the difference between socialism
and social responsibility.

Beyond the practical lessons of small scale organic agriculture,
there is something else that I took home with me.
It is that Canadians tend to relinquish responsibility to our government.
Like the Americans, we have also misunderstood socialism.
Knowing that we will be cared for is comforting in a dangerous and volatile world.
But when we have our strength and our health,
we also have an obligation to grow and innovate;
to work for others as well as for ourselves.

If we want to see change in our own agricultural development,
it will be by the hands of individuals and not agencies.
Individuals who are accountable to themselves and to their respective communities.

So what are you waiting for?

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