Saskatchewan·Point of View

City-dwellers should put more trust in farmers — we just want to feed people

There is a rural-urban divide that has split our society into two distinct parties. There are farmers and then there is the rest of the population. Neither is better than the other.

What does the modern farmer look like? There's no one answer

Cam Houle knew he would be a dairy farmer for life after skipping his convocation to be on the farm. (Cam Houle)

This piece was originally published on Nov. 19, 2018.

There is a rural-urban divide that has split our society into two distinct parties. There are farmers and then there is the rest of the population. Neither is better than the other. 

Even though most Canadians are only one or two generations removed from their family farms, that gap in experience has brought us to a weird place where food production is a mystery and farmers are under constant scrutiny.

If one were to believe everything they are shown and told, all farmers would be 65-year-old men in suspenders and plaid shirts that drive big fancy trucks and are either going to or coming back from the local coffee shop. 

There is some truth to that, but not as much as there used to be.

The worst ones are those who think they know more than the farmers actually producing the food.- Cam Houle

What does the modern farmer look like? No one knows because nothing in particular defines us, at least not on the outside. That's the wonderful thing.

All ages, races, genders and social classes are found in the agricultural community. From the stereotypical grumpy old man, to the young mother, to the dude with tattoos and face piercings, I've seen every type of farmer imaginable and that's just in the dairy industry on the prairies.

Born to be a dairy farmer

Cam Houle was raised on a dairy farm and has chosen to raise his children the same way. (Cam Houle)

My family and I have a small dairy farm just north of Saskatoon. We milk about 40 cows and we have very little hired help. Some days I question the wisdom of buying a farm that I can never escape from or even leave, but hindsight is 20/20. Either way, it is our family farm, and we work it for the most part as a family.

I was raised on a family dairy farm, but it was sold during my last years of high school. After graduation I decided to get a higher education and a nice, comfortable job. 

While I worked my way through school, I stayed employed on a dairy farm. Upon graduating with a Political Studies degree, I actually skipped my own convocation ceremony because the farm had the veterinarian scheduled to come for a herd check up. That's when I knew I would probably be milking cows for the rest of my life. 

I needed my own farm to do that. For me it was never about what I wanted to do with my life, it was a matter of how do I get what I want, which is to be a dairy farmer.

General public has lost touch with the farm

Cam Houle owns a family-run dairy farm in Saskatchewan (Cam Houle)

Like any small business owners, we work long days with few holidays and we do not pay ourselves very damn much. That's fine. Of all the reasons I chose to become a dairy farmer, the income was not one of them. I love the cows I get to take care of, I enjoy the freedom that I am afforded by being the boss and I guess it's sorta OK that my children can come out and find me any time they want to.

About a century ago, in 1921, agriculture was the single most common occupation in Canada. It employed about a third of the working population, according to Statistics Canada. Now something like two per cent of the general population are farmers, producing all the food grown in our country. 

Over the last 100 years, generation after generation has left the family farm for city life. Now the general public has become so distant from the food they consume that they are growing to fear it and the way it is produced. It makes me sad as a farmer and as a father. 

The seeming distrust is humorous at the best of times and insulting at the worst. It feels like people think we farmers are willing to poison their kids and our own just to pay our bills and that we are either willfully ignorant or accidentally so. Sadly, people would sooner listen to a scaremongering celebrity rather than just simply asking us farmers why we do things a certain way.

I think the worst part about the whole thing is that non-farmers, for the most part, don't even recognize that there is a problem. Some see themselves as not needing to know about their food. Others know just enough about farming to get by.

The worst ones are those who think they know more than the farmers actually producing the food.

Cam Houle and his family milk 42 Holstein dairy cows on their farm near Osler, Sask. (Cam Houle)

Farmers just want to take care of our families and our farms while keeping our businesses alive and healthy. We want to produce good, healthy food in a way that is sustainable for ourselves and the land. It's really that simple. 

I see no higher calling than to feed people. I don't feel it places me above anyone else that contributes to society as a whole. It's just something that I put weight in. 

It takes many different people doing many different things to support a community, a province, and a nation, even if all those different people are pretty similar after all.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ



Cam is a dairy farmer from Osler, Sask., along with his partner, Jaime, and their children. They milk 42 Holstein dairy cows.


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