lives on a family farm near Clearwater. Celia is a not so
'silent partner' in the farm, and spends her physical energy
in the garden or on horseback with her daughter Jessie...although
she can still be coaxed onto the tractor occassionally. Her
current passion (and paid work) is as the Project Coordinator
for the Indonesia Project of Peace Brigades International.
Celia has instructed organic agriculture for Assiniboine Community
College as well as permaculture courses for CUSO.
My story is a tough one to write. I have procrastinated
on it, cried about it, and been angry about it. Farming and
the economy - I have a love / hate relationship with both.
For nineteen years I have been a farmer and an organic
food and farm activist, alongside my husband Robert. For nine
of those years we lost substantial amounts of money, for six
of those years we made very little money and for four of those
years we made a decent amount of money. Those four years were
interspersed amongst the rest, and decent enough that it kept
us hopeful. Hopeful in that perennial farmers 'next year'
illusion. Thinking that next year will be better, that
next year we will have the right growing conditions, the high
yield, and the high price to match. Thirteen of those years
we have worked off the farm during the winters to make ends
meet. And we did this out of love and a strong belief that
what we were doing was important, valuable, and good decent
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The economy makes slaves of us. Men in suits in faraway cities
are buying and selling on the market - pork bellies, wheat,
flax, beef. Their actions in the stock market or other places
affect the price we get at the farm gate. There is no set
price to sell what we grow at a profit. We have to take
what the market offers us, and it rarely covers the cost
of production on a small family farm. The destruction of the
rural economy has meant that I have lost friends and neighbours
who have given up. These have been both conventional and organic
farmers. They have been women and men, and families who have
farmed for several generations. Destruction of the rural economy
has made this a lonelier place to live, as my neighbours
get fewer and far between.
Corporate farming has been taking over the rural economy for
years. Farmers become employees on their own farms - working
for the large corporation who owns the product from start
to finish. The hog industry has destroyed small pig farms
across the province that cannot compete. Vertical integration
they call it. The corporation only needs to make money on
one level, because they control all the levels. Prior to vertical
integration, the profit was spread around to many people:
the hog farmer who raised the weanlings, the farmer who finished
the animals, the local feed mill and the local butcher. Circulation
of money in rural communities is what kept them vibrant and
alive. This circulation of money has been taken outside
of the small communities by the large corporations.
I have also worked with farmers in Indonesia. Farmers there
face the same problems we do here, just on a different scale.
It is predominantly the women who are the farmers and they
are often much worse off than we are. The land they
have traditionally farmed on - with only tribal rights, and
no 'official' paper title - has often been taken away from
them in the process of the corporate globalisation of food.
Growing coffee, palm oil, or bananas for a 'northern' customer
base - bringing foreign dollars into the country - is seen
as much more important than women who are providing a subsistence
living for their families. And oh, how I wish I was a good
enough person to be happy with what they are happy with. Food,
family and friends - that was all they had. They always had
time to visit, and no one was ever in a rush. They teased
me about what they knew about foreigners: "Time is money."
A sad truth we live out here.
Farming and living here, without income, does provide an economic
benefit. I get to eat great food from my garden, grind my
own wheat and bake my own bread, and make ice cream from
the milk of my goats. I have traded my lamb for beautiful
beeswax candles from another farmer. The farm is a safe
and beautiful place to nurture and raise our daughter.
It is a wonderful place to entertain friends from the city
who ooh and ahh at our lifestyle. But given a choice, they
are usually not willing to give up their lifestyle to live
below the Canadian poverty level that most farmers do.
I have admitted that I have run out of 'next year' mentality.
So have many of my close friends. It has torn apart marriages
and plunged many of us into levels of depression or stress
that we do not know how to handle. My motto for years has
been from Margaret Mead "Never doubt that a small group
of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed,
it is the only thing that ever has." On my worst days
I can't even believe this anymore. I just simply do not
want to pay to grow food for North Americans whose main concern
is cheap food. That is work women provide - contributing
to the economy, but they do not get economic value in return.
We pay such a small percentage of our dollar for food here
- around 10%. In Europe, where they went hungry during the
war, and value the farmer as an important part of their economy,
they pay about 25%. And we have no pension plan, because we
are in business for ourselves, and it does not pay enough.
Women and farmers everywhere need to be valued in the economy