Where does your food come from? Puneeta at Barn in the Bush, Russell, Manitoba
At the Barn in the Bush, Russell, Manitoba

Were you at the grocery store this week? I believe food is central to our existence. But as I stand in the produce aisle, looking at rows of perfectly polished fruits and vegetables while mentally running through the contents of my fridge, the question “where does my food come from” is often the last thing on my mind. Do you know where your food comes from?

There are so many unanswered questions about food, right?! Is organic produce more expensive because it’s better for us? Or conversely, is expensive produce better for us because we think the higher price tag represents better quality? What is good food? What goes into growing our food? With these questions on my mind, I accepted an invitation to attend the #CanolaConnect farm adventure in Manitoba last month. I learned so much! Here is a snapshot:

Faces behind the food at #CanolaConnect Harvest camp

Only about 2% of Canadians are farmers

Think about that number. Mathematically speaking, out of 37 million people in Canada, about 750,000 should be farmers. However, according to the 2016 Census of Agriculture, that number is even less – closer to 592,975 people…and it’s falling. In 1931, 1 in 3 Canadians was a member of the farm population. In 2016, that number has fallen to 1 in 58 Canadians.

No wonder we know so little about where our food comes from. There are so few of us producing it.

Orsaks Family Wheat Farm, Binscarth, Manitoba
At the Orsaks Family Wheat Farm, Binscarth, Manitoba

Canada is the fifth-largest exporter of agricultural products in the world. That’s 2.6% of Canada’s total GDP.

These numbers should shock us all. Food is more than just fuel. It sustains and nourishes us and as the numbers tell us, it is also holding up our economy.

But do we really know the people who grow and raise our food?

Red Spring Manitoba wheat
Red Spring Manitoba wheat

It’s not easy being a farmer

Farmers face a lot of flak. Livestock farmers are faulted by the vegan and vegetarian groups – for animal cruelty; crop farmers are vilified by the organic food enthusiasts for the use of pesticides and genetically modified crops. In addition, everybody is lambasted by environmental conservation activists for straining the earth’s resources – whether true or not! Finally, consumers like you and me? We complain anytime the price of food items goes up. Remember the cauliflower price increases last year?

Add into this mix of opinions, the pressure faced from retail giants to reduce prices, from banks, and from the fickle hand of nature, and yes, farmers walk a tough road. And they are the ones who feed the world.

The farmers I met while on the #CanolaConnect Harvest Camp in Manitoba were hard-working, dedicated individuals. They are deeply sensitive to the state of their land and full of grace despite the many challenges they face. Above all, they all want to leave the land in a better state than they found it.

A healthy soil is our most precious resource

The land beneath our feet supports and connects us all. While on tour, agronomists and farmers shared with us the importance of healthy soil.

Examining healthy soil at the Canada-Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre, Manitoba
Photo Courtesy @CanolaEatWell. At the Canada-Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

Healthy means when you can nourish others and yourself.

The agricultural food chain starts with the soil beneath our feet. If managed right through organic material and regenerative practices the chain will come a full circle with the soil beneath our feet. Unfortunately, soil erosion and nutrient depletion are rightfully a big concern for the farming community. Farmers use many techniques to continue to rebuild soil and they work hard to make sure that the land can sustain and flourish future generations.

Which brings me to the many questions I have.

– Is organic food the best – for us and the planet? Or is food that is grown using regenerative practices better?

– Is GMO the villain that it’s made out to be? Or do GMO crops use fewer natural resources and therefore, are essential to feed the world?

– Should the use of all chemicals be banned from agriculture? How do we handle soil depletion?

Food is More Than Just Fuel

There is so much that I am still learning. I started on this journey to educate myself and others about where our food comes from and advocate for building bridges between people and food. There is much that WE can do as consumers to make better food choices.

At the same time, I wonder how much impact can one have, as an individual?

But that’s the beauty of it. We are not alone. If we educate ourselves and are more engaged in the journey our food takes before it arrives on our plate, we will appreciate the effort and resources that went into getting it there.

If we valued food for what it really is, we would perhaps waste less of it.

With that objective in mind, I am introducing a series of posts on our social media pages featuring some of the farmers I have met on this incredible journey. Follow along on Facebook and Instagram and join us in thanking and honouring the people behind the food we all take so much for granted.

We don’t know enough about what we eat and it’s time to remedy that.

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Disclaimer: I was hosted by @CanolaEatWell as part of their #CanolaConnect Manitoba Harvest Camp. I was not paid to write this article. The opinion is all mine.