In my previous life, before farming full time, I took a year off of school and every day life to dive into the lifestyles of rich and famous. Okay – so not EXACTLY – but I was the nanny for an affluent Swiss family. There I met a lovely girl who lit up a room when she walked inside and everyone clamoured to be around her. Rebecca smiled the biggest smile, laughed until the wee hours of the morning while dissecting life and was the life of the party with her adorable Australian accent.
Myself & Rebecca – Zurich, Switzerland – Spring 2009
She moved home to Australia and I back to Canada but thanks to the powers of social media and long distance phone cards, we’ve stayed in touch. We sent messages, texts and phone calls when the time differences would allow as we went through various stages of our lives. Friends getting married, travel, boys and the like. I’ll never forget the phone call where she told me that she was pregnant and moving onto a dairy farm though – shocked doesn’t even begin to cover it. She may have grown up on a large beef farm but I knew her as a city girl who loved the latest fashion and going out on the town and being surrounded by people. I’d never really thought about her becoming a farmer…but there she was, eventually marrying her dairy farmer love and a couple of years later welcoming a baby boy to join their first born baby girl.
Our conversations became fewer and further between. She’s raising two young toddlers while working, being a wife and helping out on their dairy farm. I’m helping to run our farm, stores and grow and sell fruits and vegetables – so managing our busy schedules – let alone the time differences becomes rather difficult. Despite the different worlds that we live in – it’s almost laughable how similar our lives have once again become.
I missed a call from her the other morning and I wish more than ever that I’d been able to get it and chat because she later posted an article on facebook and my heart sunk. Their beautiful dairy farm is caught in a crossfire and no one knows what the future holds. Australia’s dairy industry lies in a delicate balance…in large part because people aren’t connected to the farm, their food or making connections between the price they pay for the food they buy and the survival of the farms around them. Due to milk prices of imported milk and large chains selling milk for drastically low prices, it is now costing them huge amount of money to operate, produce and sell milk from their cows instead of being able to make any money farming – let alone pay their bills.
Like most farmers around the world….I don’t think Rebecca and Jason farm for the money. If they were in it for the money – they’d be doing something else. They do it because they love it. They do it because it’s a part of their soul that makes them happy. They do it because they love being able to put healthy food on someones table, in someones glass.
Though this story seems a world away, and Canada is lucky to have measures in place to protect our dairy farmers from being taken advantage of or having to sell their product for less than they can produce it for thanks to regulations, quota and the like – it’s still a terrifyingly real prospect for many farmers in all different farming sectors throughout both Canada and the world. With the more and more imports appearing on grocery store shelves we see many cheaper imports from countries around the world where cost of production is much lower than we’re able to do it here. Farmers are being forced to try and compete with these prices – while constantly facing quickly rising production costs ourselves. I will sometimes hear grumbles around farmers markets that someone could get something cheaper on sale at a grocery store or that farmers are making lots of money, and I shake my head because I know the likelihood that the quality they’ll be getting from their local farm is far superior to that of something imported from half a world away. I also have to shake my head because I have an idea of how much work, time and money it took for each and every farmer to get their product from their farm to your table and why they have to charge the prices they charge.
Farmers don’t charge prices to get rich. They charge the prices they charge to pay their mortgage. To pay for their harvesting and producing costs. Their electricity bills. Their seed bills. Their grocery bills. For their kids to go to the dentist, take piano lessons, or for new soccer cleats. They don’t want an extravagant life filled with the biggest and the best things – they want to be able to have the things they need, and if they’re lucky and work hard – maybe a few well deserved and well earned treats. They’re not trying to charge outrageous prices, nor do they want your grocery bills to be unaffordable – they’re just trying to make an honest to goodness living doing something they love while putting the best possible product on your table.
That’s why farmers farm, and that’s why it’s so important to understand the value behind our food and why we’ve got to pay the prices we pay. In order for the farming industry to survive and better yet thrive – we have to make sure farmers can pay their bills. In order for farmers to pay their bills – we have to pay fair prices for the food they grow and produce – there’s just no other way about it.
We need to learn from stories around the world like my heartbroken friends in Australia who are on the verge of losing their farm because of drastically low milk prices that don’t even begin to cover production cost, let alone all of the other costs associated with farming to let them survive as farmers. We need to better understand our food prices and why they are what they are so that our agricultural industry can survive. So that we, our friends and family and all of the future generations that follow us all have access to healthy, local and nutritious food..
So the next time you’re at the super market, or a farmers market or you’re eating a meal – please try to take a moment to remember. Remember the costs of caring for an animal that gave you that creamy milk. The cost to put up and keep a barn in good working condition. The cost of staffed hired to have someone to milk the animal. The cost to feed the cow and pay for their bedding. Not only when they’re producing but the other months of the year as well. Remember that a strawberry farmer’s plants sit in the ground for over a year before they’re able to start covering the costs of planting those plants – which range from the seed/plant costs, planting costs, preparing the fields for planting (which can take years) and that’s before upkeep, harvesting, selling and packaging costs are ever taken into consideration. Then try to remember the families working so hard to put meals on your table and remember why it’s worth it to keep those farms alive and thriving through paying fair prices for the food we eat.
Because they’re worth it – trust me.
Gretta (2.5years) helps her Dad, Jason, working in the fields on the “tak-tar” on their farm in South Australia.