"CULTIVATORS of the earth are the most valuable citizens," Thomas Jefferson
I was going to start out the first Farm Stand column on the independent farmer, in honour of this new newspaper the Islands Independent. With all the inherent risks to farming, including the weather, regulations, input costs, processing problems, disease outbreaks and globalization and the liberalization of trade, it is still a great way to live – but a hard way to make a living. Most farmers need another job to support this habit. Many things have changed on Pender Island – and in the world – over the last 100+ years. The voters list from the 1800’s listed all the Pender Island residents as farmers. Now, there would be 1% or less described as a farmer. Even so, farming still exists here. In the old days grain was grown and fruit, dairy and meat were shipped off island by boat since Pender was on the shipping route. Now, most of the products produced here are consumed here. The exceptions might be wine and lamb, premium products because they come from the Gulf Islands. On Pender and in other communities there has been a shift toward direct marketing through Farmers’ Markets and away from commodity markets where farmers are price takers, not price makers. Still, unless you are either small scale or close to a large population, you are subject to a lot of things out of your control. For example, the outbreak of BSE (mad cow disease) in Canada resulted in plummeting prices for all ruminants. Beef and sheep were major sources of farm income at the time on Pender, and many producers decided to direct market their meat to the public. Then, just as quickly, the government decided to invoke new meat regulations that would force all livestock to be shipped off-island to government inspected slaughterhouses. Now we must truck long distances or ship at low prices. Not a rosy picture and I anticipate most cattle will be gone from Pender in the next 5 years. We may see the same with lamb, as processing options become fewer.
But where doors close, others open. We already know that olives, figs and grapes thrive here in our Mediterranean climate. Vineyards have been popping up, a winery already here can provide processing and marketing. Perhaps fruit growers can work a similar situation out. The olive grove on MacKinnon Road and the fig orchard in the Grimmer Valley are perhaps another step in our farming evolution on Pender. An independent, resilient and resourceful spirit is at the heart of the farmer.
“Farming seems mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles away from the cornfield”