When you talk to shoppers about the reasons they choose to purchase their food from farmer’s markets the reasons are numerous. There is the freshness of the product, the relationship they have with the vendor, and the trust they have in the quality of the product. There is also the good feeling a person gets when they know are supporting a small business, particularly a family owned and operated business.
Family farming is associated with family values, hard work and a spirit of entrepreneurship. While much of North American farming is associated with big business and large corporations, BC’s farmers are predominately small-scale, family owned businesses. For most farmers it is more than a profession, it is a way of life. And that way of life is under constant threat.
There is often a gap between the perception of the economics of farming and the reality faced by those families. Nearly half of BC farms rely on off-farm income and the average age of farmers is over 55 years old. Succession planning, how to pass along the family farm when there are several children involved, and how to ensure that new farmers are able to access land are a few of the challenges that we are now facing.
Public opinion polls by Ipsos Reid have consistently shown a high level of support for farmers in BC. Nearly all British Columbians (96%) say they trust farmers to act in the best interests of consumers. The vast majority of responses also indicate a willingness to pay more for fresh food, more for food that has less chemicals, and more for food that is grown locally. Despite the positive perceptions, the polls also indicate that fewer of 4 of 10 believe that BC farms are getting their fair share of the money, or doing alright financially. Finally, less than 1% of BC residents shop at farmer’s markets.
From a sustainability perspective, it’s important that consumers support those families that take on the risk of planting crops or raising livestock each year. With global climate change and extreme weather events occurring more frequently, we may not be able to rely on outside sources for our food. With changes to the ALR and its governance on the horizon, consumers need to let our politicians know that they value not only the land, but the farmers that work that land.
Wendy Holm is an agrologist and former Vancity board member who has written extensively about BC farming and our ALR. Among other farm-focused publications, Wendy was a regular contributor to Country Life in BC for several years and she continues to write a blog. Her opinion piece in today’s Vancouver Sun, If we want to eat, we need to support our farmers, provides a call to action for the upcoming meeting of BC’s elected municipal officials in Whistler.
If you are reading this you’re probably already doing your part by shopping at a farmer’s market. Spread the word to friends, neighbours and relatives about the benefit of supporting our family farmers. And celebrate Farmers Appreciation Week this coming week and throughout the year.