To keep our rural communities alive we need to encourage young people to lead us into the future. Furthering ones education probably means moving to the city for a few years, but we should encourage these young people to move back to the country to raise their families. I find it very disturbing to listen to most of the other parents tell their children to basically run as far away from the farm as they can. Although we are aware that the rural exodus is a reality, I wonder if it has to be that way. What has to happen in rural areas to keep the young people here or at least bring them back to raise their families? Without a future generation of farmers, where will Canadian food come from and just how much are we willing to pay for it?
I decided to ask some 19-to 25-year-old people I know — people who were raised in small town Manitoba — what would keep them here.
They said parents have to stop regaling their children with how horrible farming is and how no one can make a living at it. For the most part, these parents have never tried to make a living in the city but believe it is better than what they have done. What makes them think that? Instead, parents need to explore new ideas and understand why and how markets are changing and what has to change in the way they farm to be able to increase their bottom line.
Because we came from the city it was easy for us to understand the value of farm life. When our children started telling us how it would be so much cheaper and easier to live in the city, we made them do an assignment. We all studied the Saturday classifieds and read the rentals. We picked apartments in areas that we know are relatively safe and calculated how much a child would have pay for rent. We then took out the grocery store fliers and calculated groceries. Then we went back through the classifieds and circled all the jobs that our children would be qualified for and calculated their monthly income. It was a truly eye opening experience. In the past 15 years since we left the city, rent on places that would have been $350 a month plus utilities were now $600 a month plus utilities. The next step was to calculate how much we save by living on a farm to show them that there really is money here. This will vary with each family of course. The first thing is that we live where we work, so the $250 a month that most people in the city spend on fuel to go to the job for us is claimed as an income tax expense because that fuel goes into our tractors. Sure we go to town for groceries once a month, but we usually go for parts at the same time. Then there are the groceries our farm supplies. Our family of six spends about $400 a month for the food we have to buy. My brother and his wife spend approximately $550 for groceries for the two of them. When we added rent, groceries, utilities (imagine the
look of shock when we said you have to pay for water in the city) and other miscellaneous expenses, our children learned that living in the city would cost them at least $1,500 a month. These figures are why our children are taking advantage of online and distance education courses.
The next revelation was that most of these young people would love to become rural entrepreneurs, but they don’t want to have to work full time off farm to access extended health care plans and run a farm. So if we could encourage national commodity groups to establish group extended health plan benefit packages to farmers, it would give young people more options. Another complaint I heard was that they wanted to be able to take a scheduled two-week vacation like their friends that have jobs. This is completely doable if it is planned. A farm can set up a vacation budget and organize a down time. I did remind our children that those two weeks that many families take to spend at the beach are the only two weeks out of a year that their families spend time together. That is a huge contrast to how we spend hours together everyday.
Many farm families cannot overcome the mindset that careers in the city are somehow more secure than a career farming. This is a misconception. My husband and I chose to move to the country and farm because we had absolutely no job security in the city. He worked in the paper industry and was pushed out after 26 years due to free trade. I worked in communications and couldn’t get a permanent job. It might not be the easiest job in the world but at least on the farm we can be the masters of our own destiny.
All levels of government have incentive programs such as low interest rate loans for young people trying to make a go of it in the country. But it is very important, in our current volatile economic environment, to avoid as much debt as possible. We encourage young people to visit successful business owners and farmers and ask to be mentored. At the minimum, they will gain priceless education in “how to” be successful when so many others are failing. The best piece of advice my husband and I received was to stay small and avoid debt.
For our family, the summer of 2008 was a learning experience. One of our sons is researching pasturing poultry and starting a business of his own. The other children are working off farm while searching for their farming niche. Maybe our perspective comes from the stories my dad tells our children about how he went to the city to find a fortune that wasn’t there, and my grandparents, with no children left, moved also. His was the generation that started the exodus. Maybe the next generation will be the one to stop it.
Debbie Chikousky farms at Narcisse, Man.
Email her at [email protected]