Saturday, 26 February 2011

Let's Say Grace First

It was the "thanks" that always made the most sense to me when my family said grace all those decades ago. It was who to thank that began to gnaw away at me in my early teens. God seemed a little distant, and if he/she existed, should have been paying more attention to wars and assassinations than raising chickens.  Someone else had more to do with putting food on our table.

I was a city kid (Montreal). In the summer we'd head to the country and could watch the cattle grazing, sweet corn growing, and we always had a small vegetable garden and compost pile on the go.  Where the food came from started to become a little more clear.

When I was sixteen, I lied about my age to get a job with Eastern Canada Stevedoring to get a chance to see the Arctic. The city kid ended up in Resolute Bay unloading supply ships for the Inuit villages, and U.S. Airforce  base.  The sun never set which was one thing, but it was my introduction to hunting, and living "off the land."  One of the Inuit elders told me they always hunted the bravest and fiercest animals because, by eating them, humans took on their strength and courage. Just as important was the gratitude the  Inuit felt for having food to eat, and the sacrifice made by the animal who had been hunted. This gave me more to think about.

After finishing university in 1971(an economics degree I've done little with) and teaching for two years in New Brunswick, I ended up as a sessional lecturer at Carleton University  with ten acres of swampy land south of Ottawa. I started market gardening during the summer and fall and finally discovered once and for all producing food, while satisfying, is very hard work. Spending two hours picking seven or eight pounds of beans and getting about five dollars for them at a farmers' market taught me a lot.

Someone asked me to write for a radio show at the community station CKCU. Someone else put my name in for a job at CBC as a joke. After an interview where I had nothing to lose (I had no journalism degree, or contacts at CBC) I was shocked to be offered a job with a local Radio Noon on CBC Radio. At that time Radio Noons were "in the service of agriculture".  It sounds a little quaint now, but back then the media, and certainly CBC took farming very seriously.  That's when I had to turn my curiosity about "where the food comes from" into something more thoughtful.

Within the CBC you're supposed to work to get  to Ottawa or Toronto, but I quickly realized I wanted to go the other way.  In 1981 I arrived in Charlottetown to produce radio shows covering farming and fishing. I quickly met a number of people who helped me over the years navigate through not just the economics, but the politics of the food business. ( I was immediately  told by Fred McCardle  that a potato is 20% carbohydrate, and 80% politics, and if I remembered that I'd be OK).

I left the CBC in 2009, but remain even more interested and concerned about what's happening to farm families and rural communities on PEI. And with no CBC producers hanging over my shoulder, I'd like to keep exploring and asking questions that I think matter.

I'm hoping this website, and blog (I keep being told I've got to do Facebook too, but I'll stubbornnly resist Twitter as long as I can) will be a place where farmers and consumers can come to think about the food we eat, how it gets to the table, who's doing the work, and who's making the money.  There will be differences, even conflict, between how consumers and producers see the food industry, and I won't shy away from that, but there are tools used in conflict resolution that look for common "interests", where people agree. That doesn't always suit the conflict driven media, but that's something I  want to explore too. Here on PEI, we have dirt, water , wind, and transfer payments to sustain us, and if we're going into a stretch of government restraint at all  levels (we won't see it in this election year) then we'd better hope the primary industries can regain some financial viability, or we're all in trouble.

I want to point people at good agriculture/food journalism that's out there (recent stuff::

and  video:

I hope others will tell the rest of us about the important food stories they come across too. My plan is try to regularly update this blog (notice how I'm avoiding the word daily, my partner sells and hybridizes Daylilies which demands lots of stooped labour.) I've got some opinions about things that will become clear over time, but I like learning too.

What I really want to do is provoke (I love all the definitions for this word: call forth (emotions, feelings, and responses); "raise a smile"; "evoke sympathy"; "incite"; "aggravate";"annoy"), but just as importantly  give thanks to the people who really matter in the food business: the people who produce it, and the thoughtful consumers who recognize that where their food dollars go will do more to shape the economic and social future of this province and country than any political promise or government program.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Ian. I am quite looking forward to this. I had the pleasure of hearing you give one of the best synopses of how we got here in agriculture. You didn’t promise any magic bullet solutions or easy fixes but you did highlight the steps and forces that have in large part brought us here. Actually a post of those speaking notes would be really cool to see here. While you stubbornly resist twitter I will be tweeting this link in a few moments. It will be a true delight to have something so close to home and close to my heart to tweet about.