There are two groups of very interesting farmers visiting PEI this week. Most are young, and trying to make sense of the "food" industry, that huge intersection of biology, chemistry, politics, economics, environment and culture. There are the participants in Canada's Outstanding Young Farmers program. We should deeply appreciate these young people. The average age of farmers in Canada continues to get older, and there are many long-standing farm families with children choosing "anything but farming" careers. The other group are part of an international organization called the Nuffield Scholarship program. This gives young farmers a chance to study a particular topic, including traveling to other countries to gain experience and information. PEI's Raymond Loo is a current scholar. Barry Cudmore who's had many leadership positions in many PEI farm groups is a former scholar.
I had a chance to hear three presentations from Nuffield scholars and was very impressed at the knowledge and passion of these young people (I'm in my 60's now so I can say that). One Sarah Megens from Ontario really impressed me. She's very interested in local food movements, and what needs to be done to protect good farmland from urban encroachment. She's studying how land use has changed around Toronto. She discovered that even land that hasn't been developed into houses or shopping malls is increasingly being grabbed up by wealthy Torontonians interested in pastures and horses, not growing food.
" I have learned about the innovative legislation and programming Pennsylvania has put in place as an attempt to secure their most valuable farmland for food production. Many of the issues facing farmers in Pennsylvania are very similar to those seen in Ontario ' the high cost of land, urban encroachment, the increasing age of farmers, and the consumer desire for more sustainably produced locally grown food. My hope is that, through my Nuffield travels, I will see more innovative policies that we can adopt in Canada so that we can, in turn, secure our own food supply, support rural economies and end the permanent loss of farmland to unsustainable urban development."
"Securing our own food supply" is one of those motherhood phrases politicians and policymakers love to throw around, but it's people like Sarah Megens who really understand how difficult and complex the issue is. We all need to pay attention to what she finds out.