By Kate Procter
Last year, about this time, I wrote a column about participating in Agri-Food Training’s C-Team course. I began with the first course almost two years ago in Vancouver and have been fortunate to also travel to Calgary and Niagara Falls for week-long sessions. Our wrap-up session began in Montreal and concluded in Ottawa.
C-Team stands for Canadian Total Excellence in Agricultural Management and “is designed specifically for producers and ranchers. Through four modules, which are held in different cities across Canada, you will develop and implement your own strategic and operations plans for your farm” (www.agrifoodtraining.com).
It is so easy, in our farm businesses and in life in general, to get so caught up in the day-to-day grind that we lose sight of the big picture – why we are doing what we are doing. We get into autopilot mode some times, or consumed with putting out fires. It takes discipline and a mindful effort to set aside time and energy to make sure we are still steering the boat in the direction we want to go. In Ontario, the Grow Your Farm Profits workshops (which I taught for a period of time) have a similar goal – taking you out of your daily work-day and doing the hard work of evaluating the why behind all of that work.
C-Team requires active participation. We have people in our group from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. There are people who are growing canola, peas, lentils, wheat, beef cattle, bison, pheasants, tobacco, corn, soybeans, asparagus, strawberries, squash, cantaloupe, zucchini, lettuce, and celery. As we all became more familiar with all of the faces around the table – we have shared more and more about our operations, our life experiences as farmers, as family members and as part of a bigger rural economy that plays such an important role in Canada.
As part of the course, we are each expected to really look at our own operations in a new and detailed way. We all developed plans and at this our final session, are presenting how those plans unfolded over the past year. As expected, everyone set out to do more than we were able to fully accomplish. And most of us, even if we didn’t consult with our written plan, held the tasks in the back of our minds and actually accomplished more than we may have realized while we were in the middle of it. Of course, some of our plans became part of next year’s plan as we moved dates forward and adjusted courses of action based on what we learned this year.
We have been fortunate to experience, through a day of touring in each region, interesting and engaging folks across the country, who are passionate about agriculture and food. Our wrap up session has also included sitting down with an economist and a lawyer who work for the Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA) in Quebec, touring the Canadian Parliament buildings, and discussing agriculture and food policy in Canada.
We learned that although business management knowledge is vitally important as farms become bigger and more complex, funding across the country for agricultural business training has dwindled over the years. Quebec seems to be putting more of a focus on this, offering funding for young farmers to expand their knowledge.
While farmers in other regions of Canada like to grumble about the perceived special treatment of farmers in Quebec, those farmers have managed over the years to maintain a single voice that presents a strong lobby to government, which helps them focus their message and keep their voices heard.
“Today, feeding the world is a strategic challenge of global proportions. Farming communities of all stripes would benefit from standing together and finding innovative methods of action in a context of globalized markets. In 1993, this recognition led to the creation of UPA Développement international (UPA DI), a not for profit corporation founded in order to lend support to democratic farmers’ organizations and collective marketing systems in countries around the world.” Farmers from other areas are able to travel to Quebec to learn about agriculture, and Quebec farmers also travel to other places to learn as well.
This reinforced my belief that life long learning is vital, no matter what you end up doing. The people who have been successful are good at making a conscious and deliberate effort to take risks, grow, step outside their comfort zones, and learn from their mistakes. As I become inspired by the passionate Canadian farmers I have been fortunate to get to know, I am reminded once again that we aren’t alone and again recognize the opportunity to do so is a huge gift. ◊