In the 1970s farmers in the United States were told to “get big or get out” as a way to promote larger, corporately owned farms.
Since that time, the population of people living on farms dropped from 25 percent to 2 percent, with those who work full time on a farm dropping to .1 percent. Canada wasn’t very far behind the United States in our move a to “bigger is better” mentality and the statistics are similar.
When I was growing up on a prairie farm there was a lot of emphasis on diversification to enable farmers to stay on their farms. The loss of the family farm wasn’t something that happened overnight or something that happened willingly on the part of the farmer. But the big corporate farms were able to drop the cost of production to a level most small farmers couldn’t compete with. With this drop in production costs came a drop in quality.
The organic movement, which supported small farms, came into being around this time and it’s been with us ever since. Organic food is about more than just not using chemicals. It’s about properly feeding and caring for the animals and soil that feeds us.
Over the past few years, organic foods have gradually moved into the main stream, and thus our groceries stores. Some certified organic farms have even become gigantic to meet the demand. This food is being shipped vast distances, sometimes coming from other continents. Even foods that would grow quite well in Canada are being shipped into the country. This is why there has been a growing desire to eating locally over the last few years.
In some areas of the country this isn’t as easy as it may seem. The infrastructure that was in place when there were many small farms is now gone as well. Sometimes this was caused by a lack of product to process, sometimes it was caused by a change in government policy which favoured standards for export over local production. Either way, it’s gone and will take some time and effort to bring it back.
Here in the Yukon, there never was any of this infrastructure in place. So every farm that starts up has to build their own infrastructure. Regarding animals, this means working out a way to have them butchered and inspected so they can be sold to stores and restaurants. Thankfully the mobile abbatoir does take some of the work out of this problem, at least for red meats. But poultry, eggs and vegetables are another story.
But not having a history of large farming in the Yukon is actually an asset not a liability.
We don’t have to follow the “bigger is better” model from down south and we can create a model that keeps local foods in our pantries at the same time as maintaining quality.
As far as I am concerned smaller is actually much better for us all.