In early March, the NFU (National Farmers Union) Youth held our annual retreat – this year just outside Edmonton, Alberta, at a historic log cabin called Rundle’s Mission. We had at least one person from each province in attendance (except for Newfoundland-Labrador and the Territories…it would be great to fill those voids for next year!).
There were some conversations about being referred to as “Youth.” All of us in attendance were clearly grown-ups…I’d say that 30 was an average age. But when we’re talking about the farming community, under 40 is often considered a young farmer (technically within the NFU right now, it’s under 35).
You can see the faces of all of this year’s attendees in the picture above…..and yes the plaid was planned (as it has been for the past few years). These faces make me so happy. This is the future of our farm and food systems in Canada!
It’s so great to be able to take a step back from thinking about our individual farms (the production, the marketing, the business management) and think about the BIG picture. Of where each of us fits in the larger landscape of farm and food. The reasons we became farmers, the problems we see with the status quo, the solutions that each of us are coming up with.
And of course we eat great food, socialize, tell stories, dance, sing, and drink together!
A lot of what happens during the NFU Youth Retreats are young farmers sharing and teaching young farmers. We had one presenter, Cory Olikka, who presented ideas for hosting kitchen table meetings to us but wasn’t there for the full 3-days (Cory is a former NFU Youth President) but otherwise, the presenters were also the participants.
The current NFU Youth President, Ayla Fenton, gave a brief overview of the history of the NFU and all the work farmers from across Canada have been doing since the 60’s to improve farming and food systems.
She showed this gem of a picture below. These are NFU youth members from 1971. How great is that! The clothes! (old photos like this one can be found in the History of the NFU on the website)
We learned about some farmers in Manitoba who had won a provincial award through their Department of Agriculture for their sausages……then later that year had those sausages confiscated for “food safety reasons” but the sausages were destroyed by the Department before they were tested. Read more about that here.
We learned about regulations that affect small farmers in Alberta (many of the regulations are the same or similar in every province). If a farmer was selling frozen pesto, they can’t put it in a Mason jar….why not? Because apparently customers would then think it was a canned product and they would leave it on a kitchen shelf rather than in the freezer, and then would get sick after they ate it. This farmer blending their basil up before the frost hits it in the field also would have needed a certified kitchen to process it in and a food handlers certificate for themselves as well as a food permit for both the freezer they’re storing the pesto in at the farm and for the delivery van they use to get the pesto to their farmers’ market customer. All of these steps makes it less and less likely that customers will be able to access products made in small batches by the farmers who grew the ingredients.
I presented on Organic 3.0 which is a vision for the future of the Organic Movement. Because I love being both an organic eater and an organic farmer, and because I’m planning/hoping to live on into the future, this is an important issue for me. If you want to learn more about it, check out the discussion document here.
Our retreat happened to coincide with March 8th, the International Women’s Day. So, of course, with members of 2 farm organizations that have really honoured women as farmers (before it was politically correct to do so), the NFU Youth and youth from Union Paysanne (in QC) stood in solidarity with women farmers from around the world. You can see the awesome photo we took below. And here is our statement:
International Women’s Day Statement
Youth of the NFU and Union Paysanne
March 8, 2016
On this International Women’s Day, 2016, we the youth of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Union Paysanne stand in solidarity with all of the women farmers, peasants and Indigenous women around the world who are sowing the seeds for change, which includes undertaking a disproportionate amount of the work in feeding communities everywhere.
We recognize and honour the efforts of women within the NFU and Union Paysanne who have taken on a leadership role in fighting for equality within the Canadian food system, and who continue to play a strong role in building food sovereignty in this country.
Women farmers in Canada have played a significant part in the forging of alliances with peasant women internationally, through their work with La Vía Campesina. This has been an inspiring process of movement building and knowledge sharing. Women are shaking the structures of power within the patriarchal economic system that is capitalism. We recognize that women around the world are continually putting their lives on the line through this struggle.
We collectively mourn the loss of Berta Caceres, Indigenous environmental leader from Honduras, and we condemn her recent murder, which is a manifestation of the attack on struggles for land, justice, and freedom throughout the global south. Here in the territory known as Canada, we stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities who are demanding justice for the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and who are dealing with the ongoing consequences of colonialism.
Globalize the struggle! Globalize the hope!
Each year I’ve attended, as we’re all hanging out in the evenings, we’ll share photos from our farms. This is a great way to get to know each other better as farmers.
During my farm slide show, the last photo was of our newest kitten, who we had still been struggling with naming (we tried out lots of names on him for a day or 2 at a time).
A few other farmers had cats named Kevin (random cat name…) and so, I suggested it to Bryan when I got home. We changed it slightly to Li’l Kevin. Li’l Kev for short. And it seems to work….it’s different enough from our other cats’ names (Yuki and Kubota) that I think he gets who we’re calling.
I can’t recommend the NFU Youth Retreats highly enough. I think that attending one is one of the coolest things a young/aspiring farmer in Canada can do to set the stage for their successful/empowered career/life as a farmer.
All of the participants of this year’s NFU Youth Retreat from the Maritime Provinces were so stoked about the event that we wanted to bring the event home. So, we’re organizing a mini-version (one-day only) on Sunday, April 24th at the Dieppe Market. It’s called New Farmers of the Maritimes – Fermenting the New Farm Culture! | La fermentation de la nouvelle culture fermière ! You don’t need to be “young” to attend, just young-at-heart. I hope to see you there!
You can find all the info on the facebook event page here.
During one of the annual NFU Youth Retreats, we started the National New Farmer Coalition (which is a Coalition with other Canadian organizations that are working on supporting new farmers). If you haven’t already, I recommend reading more about it here. And join the facebook group and share your thoughts.
There is also both a National Farmers Union facebook page (where you can see what the organization is sharing) and a facebook group (where you can see what NFU members are sharing). I encourage you to check them out and like or join if you want to keep up-to-date.
Here are a few online resources that I learned about during the retreat and wanted to share:
- The brand new “Strengthening Supply Management” report. Supply Management has a lot of positive aspects and a lot of negative aspects at this point in Canadian history. But it can change for the better….which I think is a better option than scrapping it altogether. Anyway, read the report to get more informed.
- “Free Trade” This report is not brand new, but it’s well done and clear and easy to read. I find free trade to be an intimidating topic to read about (or maybe I mean it’s often boring). This report is not boring.
- “Farm Women and Canadian Agricultural Policy” Such an important issue and not often written about.
- “Small Scale Sustainable Farmers are Cooling Down the Earth” this one is from La Via Campesina (the worldwide organization from peasant farmers)