There is a good reason farming is also referred to as agri-culture. The ‘culture’ part speaks to the extremely diversified and inter-locking bodies of information, skills and methodologies that were developed over 1000s of years. Every farmer on the Island – and there were more than 10,000 of them when I was a boy – was the repository of a rich heritage of skill-sets that are in danger of being lost. It was surely the height of folly for an agricultural province to cast away such a legacy, yet that is what we have done, and are continuing to do.
Farming was always organized on a community and family level. That day is pretty much over. Increasingly, the forces driving agriculture care little or nothing about families or communities. Farming is now conceptualized within the national and international corporate mind-set, with notorious disregard for everything except the bottom line. I am speaking here not of the individual farmers who still live on the land, but of the larger corporate system within which they operate, and by which they are controlled in many ways.
It is a system that is presently lobbying hard for global trading agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership that could flood this country with agricultural products from much larger factory farms than we have here, and further erode our farming communities.
Factory farming also has little regard for the soil. Instead of soil stewardship being achieved by acquiring knowledge of things like crop-rotation, manuring and fallowing, corporate agriculture dumps industrial fertilizer on the ground. Land that was once a complex ecology of micro-organisms is reduced to a sterile and lifeless growth medium.
Respected Island biologist Ian MacQuarrie claims, indeed, that the degradation of the land is so extreme in some places that he is at a loss to know what to call the substance he once called soil.
The current direction in agriculture actually entails a tragic ‘double whammy’. Not only are we systematically destroying the soil, but we have also reduced drastically the number of Islanders who own the land, which has enormous political implications. When ownership of the land, and of the distribution and marketing of food, passes into the hands of the few, the dependency and vulnerability of the many increase exponentially. Fortunately we have legislation that protects us from the massive buy-up of land that has happened in other places, but there is enormous pressure on that legislation which will increase as ageing farmers attempt to sell their operations.
I recall years ago speaking to a large grower from the North River area who had fields leased for potatoes in a number of different communities within a ten mile radius. Out of curiosity I asked him which area had the best soil for growing spuds, and was shocked by his very candid response. “David,” he said, “with all the stuff we put on the land these days it doesn’t really matter very much what the soil is like.”
It sounded to me like an epitaph for the Island landscape.
Clearly the era of industrial farming is on the way out. It has had it’s successes, but at very great cost to farming communities and families, and to the soil itself. Further, based as it is on huge inputs of non-renewable inputs it simply is not sustainable over the long term. Our
challenge as a farming community is to see to it that the damage is contained, and to lend our support as voting citizens, and as consumers, to the practitioners of agri-culture.
God Bless and keep reading