canadian farmers have an attitude

Sitting around the kitchen table after dinner, a friend thumbs through the latest issue of Western Producer.

Sitting around the kitchen table after dinner, a friend thumbs through the latest issue of Western Producer.

“This,” he says, “is the future of farming.”

Page after page of family farm auctions, everyone it seems is selling out, moving on.

But why and where will they go?

Sunday afternoon and Rex Murphy is asking all the same questions.

Farmers, professors, economists all weigh in. Our farms, and therefore our food supply, are in trouble.

Farming, once undertaken as high art through hand labour, is now the work of those well versed in chemical engineering and commercial banking.

I wait for Rex to come up with something like “the proliferation of rapid mechanization and the apathetic commodification of rational alternatives have left farmers wallowing in the hedonistic stench of an ongoing international froth.”

He is right of course. I think.

Here is my interpretation of Murphy’s Law.

Around 1930, give or take a decade, farmers began to develop an attitude. Some of it was good. Most of it we now know was self-destructive.

Their internal disaffection for farm life first developed as a logical outcome of external pressure brought about by the ill-fated notion that bigger tractors and easier credit meant more efficient farms and more money.

In short they were sold (and quickly bought) a bill of goods.

Industrialization, they were told, would allow them to cultivate more earth while at the same time doing less physical work.

By the 1950s, this urban folklore had overtaken rural logic. Farmers were subtly (and not so subtly) pressured into believing both formal education and state-of-art mechanization could save them from hard work. But, of course, it was not only farmers who were gullible.

Most of Canada quickly lined up, eager to make more by doing less.

But, by 1970, farmers and much of the rest of Canada had realized that our contemporary education, which is rooted in industrial thinking, along with our fascination of assembly-line farming would require farmers to go blind in one eye in order to see out of the other.

Calluses, once the pride of self-reliant farmers, were replaced by vertical frown line cut deep into the faces of farm families who worried about how to have the best of two worlds: urban luxury amid a tranquil rural setting.

The price to be paid for such puzzlement was a dear one.

Rural kids, once raised on work that mattered, quickly became mesmerized by urban occupations that “would do.”

Office work and corporate careers guaranteed all the electronic gadgets they felt they could not “be” without.

Reality TV, iPods and MP3s siphoned kids off the farm and right out of the family.

Parents were helpless to stem the flow because if technology does any one thing well, it makes us postmodern-savvy but generation-dumb.

Farm kids soon forgot the warm dank odour of recently cultivated earth and they no longer remembered names of the opportunistic songbirds that once flocked behind the tractor.

Statistics Canada reveals, “the rapid mechanization of agriculture has forever transformed the face of Canadian farming.

“In 1921, there were 22 agricultural workers for every tractor and combine.

“Today, there are more than twice as many tractors and combines as agricultural workers. (850,000 tractors and combines; 329,000 workers). Millions of Canadian workers made redundant by mechanization moved to the cities in pursuit of different lifestyles, and traditional family farms began to give way to increasingly automated ‘megafarms.’”

This is Murphy’s Law and it does not bode well for the future of Canadian children or for our food supply.

Farm families who once lived at the centre of their own attention, who once held their own by weathering together, are now dispersed, detached and fragmented both physically and spiritually from the land.

And they are in trouble.

Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have much to offer to farmers.

Government can ill afford to do for people what they no longer can do for themselves. And that I am afraid is plenty.

When we more clearly understand what farming is for, we will begin to appreciate what people are for.

Farmers, factory workers, educators and politicians must now accept the notion that any society willing to give its children over entirely to the schools, who willfully cart their old and feeble off to the heath care industry, and who insist hand labour is demeaning, have an attitude and may need a trip to the wood shed.