By Jeff Carter
There have been concerted efforts, courageous even, to provide a unified voice for Canada’s farming community over the years.
They’ve never worked. The community, despite being a shadow of its former self in terms of numbers, may be more diverse today than ever before.
Think about it.
Sixty years ago, the Canadian landscape was dominated by a system of small, mixed farms operated primarily by families. Certainly, those farms tended to be somewhat larger in the west compared to Ontario and Quebec and the type of livestock varied from one place to another but more similarities could be counted among the various operations than differences.
Not so today in the era of specialization.
Farmers, caught in their own little silos are far less knowledgeable of how many of their neighbours operate and now are at risk of losing their voice entirely as others do their talking for them or, worse, at them.
That’s increasingly the case within the Canadian media, including CBC Radio. Several times over the past few weeks I’ve heard what is to me a new term – Agri-Farm.
It was used to describe greenhouse operations reliant upon Canada’s temporary foreign migrant workers, workers who are increasingly being portrayed as being vulnerable or even exploited by the farmers who employ them.
I even heard, again on CBC Radio, that certain workers were going hungry, were not allowed to travel from their places of employment to shop for groceries or were being provided with culturally inappropriate foods. Just how widespread these issues may be was not discussed or their context and it’s unclear as to whether the assertions had even been fact-checked for accuracy.
One thing is clear, however. The various migrant worker advocacy groups active in Canada do not provide migrant workers with jobs, at least not beyond a few positions that may be available within or through their own organizations. Farmers do, and it’s for these positions that migrant workers come to Canada year after year, typically deriving significant benefit for doing so given that wages paid in Canada go a lot further in the Caribbean, Mexico and other countries from which the migrants originate.
Is the system just? No. Does it provide equal rights for the migrants? Certainly not.
It is however, the best Canada has delivered so far and the shortcomings should not be laid solely the feet the farm community.
In this context, the term Agri-Farm (or perhaps Agri-‘Pharm’ given the manner in which most farming is done in Canada) seems appropriate. Canada’s food system is Canada’s Agri-Farm. We all have a stake. We’re all responsible, even radio broadcasters and other members of the media.
The dollars the federal and provincial governments have been borrowing in recent months to prop up our Agri-Farm are appropriate. Most recently, $26 million has bee ndesignated to support migrant workers – and other farm workers – in Ontario during COVID-19.
The money is to be used to protect the workers and conceivably their employers as well and, in the words of an October 13, joint federal-provincial release, “to ensure the continuous supply of locally grown food all year round.”
The funds, and others before them, are only a stopgap, however. Systemic change is needed, not just in Canada but globally, if “equal rights and justice” are to become part of Canada’s Agri-Farm. ◊