Moving away from our 'rural roots': Has society changed the way it views farmers?
Author Wayne MacKinnon to give talk on sustainable farming on P.E.I.
People are becoming more interested in and aware of where their food is coming from, even as they are more disconnected from farmers.
That, according to award-winning author Wayne MacKinnon, is a driving force behind the way people view farmers and agriculture more generally.
MacKinnon says a major concern with industrial agriculture and the use of chemical inputs, pesticides, antibiotics and GMOs has led to farmers feeling attacked for their techniques.
"People have moved away from their rural roots. Farmers are a minority now and people don't really recognize what farmers are doing," he said.
"All of those reasons and others have conspired really to put farmers somewhat on the defensive when it comes to explaining what it is they're doing and why they're doing it."
MacKinnon said that traditionally, agriculture on P.E.I. was inherently sustainable following what he described as "three pillars" of sustainability.
He said farming techniques need to be environmentally sound, economically profitable and socially responsible.
"In looking at agriculture, if it's very profitable but it does so at the expense of the environment, it's not sustainable ... if the environment regulations are too stringent it could affect profitability on farms," he said.
"Taken together, if farming is not sort of socially responsible or socially acceptable, it would be said to be not sustainable."
MacKinnon said that Island farmers are probably among the most regulated in the country.
"We've introduced mandatory crop rotations, buffer zones, banned agriculture or farming on high sloped land, whole variety of other practices that are legislated and farmers are really very highly regulated," he said.
Farmers were a majority
MacKinnon said the move to a more industrial form of agriculture in the post-Second World War era has played a major role in changes to how farmers do their work.
Before, farmers longer rotations, which meant fewer pests and a build up organic matter in their soil, making it healthier.
There weren't high costs associated with agriculture. Farmers used what they produced on their land.
"Farmers were largely self-sufficient when it came to food for example. The only things that they had to import were necessities such as sugar, salt, molasses, rum," MacKinnon said.
They were also viewed as integral members of the community, according to MacKinnon, as the majority of people were farmers and were closely tied to their neighbours as well as local businesses.
After the Second World War, when there were food shortages and rationing occurred, the federal government shifted its focus to mass-production of food and lowering costs for consumers.
"With the introduction of chemical inputs such as fertilizers and chemicals, we've lost some of that kind of relationship to nature," he said.
"The industrialized model of agriculture really sees soil more as a medium in which to hold roots while you apply chemicals or fertilizers and all of the rest of it. That's one of the bigger changes."
MacKinnon is giving a talk, called When Did 'Farm' Become a Four-Letter Word: A History of Sustainable Agriculture in Prince Edward Island, on Friday night at the MacPhail Homestead.
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With files from CBC's Mainstreet P.E.I.