Seeding ideas about the rural/urban divide

A farmers musings on the growing lack of communication between city-dwellers and farmers

Harvesting of soybean field with combine

I got some grease on me the other day. Heck. It looked as if I had bathed in the stuff. And, you know what? It felt great. I even got a few scrapes. The kind of scrapes you only notice later, after the work, when you’re sitting down with a good book or while watching the game.

I still marvel at this lifestyle. The physical work of farming is a breath of fresh air and, right now, still early in the season, it’s a ton of fun. The temperature is heating up, and the bugs haven’t yet begun their quest to bite and/or annoy us.

The intensity of the seeding season has yet to hit my farm. We’re getting ready, but not with haste. It’s a slow and steady gear-up. It’s been a nice pace, and I needed it to be given the full-time nature of my other work with Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers, which, as you may guess, is only getting busier and busier.

But, before the pistol fires and it’s all hands on deck for this growing season, humour me for a paragraph or two. This is not a column expressly about carbon tax. Nor is it one on public trust. It’s also not going to be one that argues to a point or conclusion.

The disconnect

Farm settlement history in Canada is not uninteresting. The Dominion Lands Act sought to divert people from moving to urban areas by offering quarter sections of land for a dollar. Rural Canada began taking shape, new farmers, themselves immigrants, accepting help from the indigenous population, who knew well how to grow food in this country’s harsh climates.

You and I began farming here. Meanwhile the cities grew. Rural areas, largely cut off from density and the flow of information people living in the cities had access to, grew and developed on their own.

Fast forward 100-plus years and we’re shocked at how people living in the city know very little about what is really happening on Canada’s farms. But we shouldn’t be.

Access to the amount of information we currently have available is a relatively new phenomenon. And the window it has created between agriculture and the rest of the world is an important beginning to a good relationship. But, right now, it’s just a peephole and that, at times, is trickier to navigate than a brick wall.

We talk about public trust. But do we really mean, simply, bringing the public up to speed about what’s been happening in the farming world over the past few decades? Which, in the big picture, is still recent history.

When these debates come up, it’s never about how we as farmers can spin the public a yarn about the kinds of chemicals we use or what we’re really doing to the land. No. The result of those discussions is always how can we better let the public know the actual, real-life practices taking place on our farms.

The information

Someone living in Winnipeg may have never seen a combine. I know some of these people. I have shown some of them my farm, and it has blown them away. They had no idea about the scope of things out here. And they had no idea the kinds of decisions a farmer has to make.

But then, it’s equally fascinating that many people living in the country have never driven downtown.

If I am to speak bluntly, the subtext of public trust is that we as farmers have done something untrustworthy to a friend that isn’t around very often. And now agriculture is spending lots of energy and resources on mending that relationship, hoping the public will give it more attention.

As farmers are forced to react to policy coming down the national or provincial pipe, this disconnect is important to consider. We hope those in positions of power have a sense of what is happening on farms, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Peering through a peephole isn’t enough. How a farm operates should be more widely known. And general agronomy should be, as well.

The window between the farms and the rest of the world will grow, and as it does, hopefully public support for the things we do will grow, as well. In a perfect world, the reasons my ancestors paid a buck to live in the country would no longer represent a prejudice against city folk. And, in that same world, the public would know what we’re up to and trust us to grow their food.

About the author


Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]



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