Growing our own food is better in cooperation than for self-sufficiency
Local Journalism Initiative
It’s Easter Sunday in the Eastern Townships—and several other holy days in our other faiths—and the sun is about to rise on this frosty farmscape. Yesterday’s snow didn’t stay, but the thermometer outside my farmhouse now reads -5 Celsius.
Several of the farmers I wanted to profile for this week’s feature are unavailable. Two haven’t returned my phone call. The other had to cancel at the last minute due to his Covid symptoms.
That put me in a mild panic, as often happens, but I benefited from a bit of reassurance from my son this time: “Don’t worry, Dad, you’ll figure it out,” Nathan said. “You always do.”
We’ve seen it all this weekend—these days—haven’t we? Friday was warm and sunny, Saturday snow and rain, Sunday frosty; more sun and warmth in the forecast for Easter Monday. Occupation in Ottawa; declining Covid cases; an invasion and war overseas—one among too many; now a sixth wave of infections here. Too much money in people’s bank accounts last year, reportedly, and now too many worries about too little. A great wave of support for local farmers in early Covid, now a wave of people scouring the flyers and grocery-store shelves for the cheapest prices.
Human horror in a country Canada can easily relate to—as well as more distant countries—while small and large miracles happen around them and us. People resolved against the odds to protect themselves and their country from occupation. Others finding small measures of justice after being occupied and harmed themselves. The Pope apologizing to Indigenous peoples.
Last week, I received an email asking if I was interested in getting involved in a “prepping organization” because “hard times are probably ahead of us,” the fellow wrote. He is advocating for “preparedness…things like becoming more self-sustainable (growing one’s own food), being more resourceful, getting more off-grid, being more aware of privacy related matters and related infringements, and becoming less dependent on the state and its various systems.”
I’ve heard this often recently; I suppose my move from a white-collar, mainstream business world to a little farm and rebuilding from scratch makes me a small magnet for such perspectives.
We’re all responding in our own ways to the uncertainties of our times, the fears of living the same tragedies we see others suffering, the pain of loss, the frustrations of changes we didn’t choose. Some are flying flags and swearing at our Prime Minister, demanding more individual freedoms; others are sending their support to those in need, opening their doors to refugees. Some are moving to the country, growing their own food; others are ever more distrustful of authority.
In my experience of growing and selling food, rebuilding an old farm, living as much as I can off the land, I have learned that the best way to protect ourselves, to enjoy the best balance of freedoms and the greatest prosperity, is by working together and strengthening the institutions and governments that bind us—not by fomenting distrust and anger, trying to be islands of self-sufficiency, or retreating to apparently greener pastures.
Indigenous peoples thrived in North America by working together; European settlers survived their early years here by building barns—and schools and churches and hospitals and governments—together; the blend of cultures that make up the Eastern Townships, Quebec, and Canada today have prospered by working and participating together in the economic and democratic systems we’ve all been building for centuries and even millennia.
So, sure, let’s grow some of our own food—if you can and want to. Use a horse rather than a diesel tractor. But also get involved in the institutions that are important to us: go with questions and concerns that seek to improve rather than undermine.
Distrust, anger, and the undermining of what we’ve all built are the greatest dangers to our well-being and future.
Our food system and farms are among those institutions we’ve laboured hard to build. Farmers work their fields and forests often feeling isolated from the rest of the world, but they do so to supply us all with one of the most fundamental of our needs, and they do so within a complex world system of trade, competition, and collaboration.
My new farm business is doing so in only the tiniest of tiny-drops-in-the-sap-bucket kind of ways. But, like each crocus now blossoming, each warm egg in the chicken coop this morning, and each garlic sprouting from the soil today as early spring moves miraculously to warm, growing spring, we all count.
Scott Stevenson farms and writes at his home in Newport, Quebec.