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Bridging The Rural-Urban Culture Gap

If rural and urban Canada were a married couple, they d have moved to separate bedrooms decades ago. That frigid disconnect is one of the problems sustainable, grassroots Canadian agriculture faces in the immediate future.

Maybe I m old-fashioned, but I ve made it a priority to support Canadian producers and manufacturers whenever possible. I ve given up on trying to buy new clothing made in Canada (except for my boots, which are made in Winnipeg). Unless I go to a specialty store in a big city, the only hope I have of buying Canadianmade clothing is to buy it used, from a place like Value Village. I haven t shopped at a Walmart in four years, except for last week when we really needed a plunger there s only one washroom in our house.

If I find something made in Canada, even if 20 years old, it still outperforms anything we can buy new. That says something about our economy and our society and none of it s very good.

One of the last refuges where Canadian-produced goods still dominate is the grocery store. Well, I like to think so, anyway. A recent trip to one of the grocery stores here in Pincher Creek was a little unsettling. On many of the meat packages, I was unable to identify where the meat was raised or even processed. Curious, I went up to the meat counter to ask the butcher, but found the counter empty, nary a meat cutter in sight.

If it was so difficult to identify Canadian beef in a western grocery store, how can we possibly expect a consumer in a detached city to do so? Moreover, are we giving urban consumers the impetus to care where their meat comes from? Or in the end, will steak go the way the T-shirt has gone, and whatever country can produce the most for the least, wins?

Until I was a young teenager, I believed there were white and black chickens and turkeys. Yup, I kid you not. I made the leap of faith because there existed both white and dark meat. I d go into a KFC and incredulously balk at the thinly veiled prejudice of charging more for white meat than the dark variety. And I d wrestle with a bit of guilt for paying the premium, preferring white meat.

It wasn t until Thanksgiving one year when my entire understanding of the world underwent a paradigm shift. On one plate, from just one turkey, I noticed both dark and white meat. I shouldn t have, but I made this observation out loud, much to the amusement of my family and our dinner guests. It was humiliating, but it was certainly a lesson I ve taken to heart.

First, without adequate information, our species will leap to its own conclusions because no matter how illogical our beliefs may be, it is in our nature to want to understand the world around us. In my case, that meant believing there was a race war in the poultry industry. Second, the average city person has absolutely no idea where their food comes from, much less an understanding of how it was produced.

The reason I insist on supporting Canadian producers is because I understand the heritage and value of rural Canada. I know how hard small towns have worked to stay on the map, and I know a pile of people who would shrivel up and die if they had to go live and work in a city. I want the family farm to survive I don t want a series of corporations buying all the family outfits across the country and raising all my food. And I think if most Canadians knew what I know, they d feel the same way.

So how do we get that information out there? Maybe it s time for urban and rural student exchanges. When I was a kid, we had an opportunity to go to Japan for an exchange, but a family farm and small-town school would nearly be equally foreign to urban youth today. Maybe we need to change curriculums to explain the humanity behind agriculture, rather than the dry mechanics of irrigation, as I was taught. Certainly, we need to partner with retailers across the country to promote and clearly label anything produced in Canada. Without adequate labelling, we can t even ask consumers to make the choice.

Everything I feel and believe about this issue flies in the face of globalism and free trade agreements. And I think the mCOOL fight has claimed a casualty no one saw coming the tongues of everyone officially representing our industry. Advocating for better labelling to promote domestic sales while fighting tooth and nail to prohibit another country from labelling their own meat, well… that s a pretty barbed fence to try and straddle. It d be a lot like the chicken calling the turkey black, and no one wants to be caught with one foot on either side of the border.

Agriculture will always exist in Canada what remains to be seen is whether our grassroots producers will as well.

Sheri Monk is a reporter for Alberta Farmer, based in Pincher Creek, Alberta.

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Until I was a young teenager, I believed there were white and black chickens and turkeys.

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