It is my humble opinion that a farmer’s generosity is un-matched.
Everyday I witness simple acts of kindness, like a cup of tea at a kitchen table or a lengthy interview where my endless questions are patiently answered. It’s this genuine human spirit that I love the most about Canadian agriculture.
Sadly, city folks are rarely offered a glimpse into this side of farming and rural life.
With the disconnect between city life and country life growing at an astronomical pace, too often the only news non-farm folk hear about the industry are the disasters (animal welfare issues, disease and food-borne illness, recalls, transportation bottlenecks etc.).
That is until last week, when two major livestock stakeholders by coincidence launched their annual food bank drives within 48 hours of each other.
For more than 20 years, Canadian egg farmers have been donating farm fresh eggs to food banks in rural and urban communities across Canada. Last year their donation topped one million eggs, a new record.
Donations of protein-rich foods are hard to come by, meaning eggs are critical to ensuring the more than 900,000 Canadians who depend on food banks each month are properly fed.
This year, though, Egg Farmers of Canada decided to do more. The group built a 1950s style diner on Sparks Street, Ottawa’s downtown pedestrian mall, complete with more than 1,800 free egg sandwiches (topped with a mountain of delicious bacon).
Passersby were invited to make a donation, which the farmers would match, on top of their own $10,000 gift. Egg farmers, meanwhile, were on hand to answer visitors’ questions, offering a glimpse into what happens on the farm back home as bureaucrats in their suits and ties listened with genuine interest.
It’s amazing how much learning gets done over a cup of coffee and a sandwich.
Buoyed by the success of the Egg Farmer’s diner, I headed over to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s barbecue at city hall the next afternoon. Tied into the mayor’s annual Rural Expo (a day meant to celebrate the fact 80 percent of the city of Ottawa is rural), the event is designed to pad the Ottawa Food Bank’s auction purse.
In an ingenious partnership, the Food Bank purchases local cattle at auction and then has it processed into ground beef at a nearby processor. The ground beef is then handed out to needy Ottawa families. Last year the event raised a record $160,000.
This year’s event was expected to bring in a similar donation.
Twenty-two hundred mouthwatering eight ounce burgers were on sale for $10 each, fresh off the grill and piled high with golden caramelized onions. Meanwhile, area farmers had trucked in a mare and her foal and a few dairy cows, while nearby week-old goat kids drew curious onlookers, who peered into the pen they shared with a wooly and very friendly sheep.
Again, I was struck by the hunger (no pun intended) of Ottawa residents wanting to learn more about the industry that feeds them. While many insist city folks aren’t interested in learning about where their food comes from, 20 minutes near the goat enclosure threw that argument out the window.
“Is that the babies’ mama?”
“No, that’s a sheep, those are goats,” was the farmer’s gentle reply. “They’re two different animals.”
“What do you feed them? How old are they? How much milk do they produce? Why did you decide to raise goats?” The questions were endless, the farmer’s patience even more so.
As I watched from afar, it struck me that while the actual event was about farmers donating to worthy causes, the real success of the week was the knowledge being shared.
A year ago, I realized, I might have been one of those curious onlookers with hundreds of basic questions, knowing very few of the answers.
Yet, farmers have accepted me with open arms. They’ve put up with my confused looks, helped me piece together how the various supply chains work, and answered my many phone calls, emails and tweets.
They’ve taught me most everything I know about their industry and that type of knowledge sharing is the biggest gift of them all.
Kelsey Johnson is a reporter with iPolitics, www.ipolitics.ca.