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Finding Common Ground

Farm organizations and rural advocacy groups haven’t exactly been tripping over themselves to sign on to the Manitoba Food Charter.

In fact, the Manitoba Women’s Institute – once a fearless advocate for similar values – voted almost unanimously a couple of years back against a resolution to support it.

Likewise, mainstream farmers have been noticeably absent from charter events such as recent Getting Vocal/Growing Local conference held in Winnipeg. That is, unless they ended up among the 70 on the waiting list after the 250 available spots sold out to an eclectic assortment of people from all walks of life.

The reluctance by conventional agriculture to associate with this initiative is understandable. What could farmers possibly have in common with these people? Or, for that matter, it’s signatories, who tend to represent marginalized or “special interest groups” such as women, Aboriginal communities, and organic or local food proponents.

With a whopping two per cent of the population, farmers certainly never struggle to be heard. Their interests are never underrepresented or ignored in policy decisions.

And what’s with that food charter vision statement anyway?

“A just and sustainable food system in Manitoba is rooted in healthy communities, where no one is hungry and everyone has access to nutritious food. It is an economically viable, diverse and ecologically sustainable system to grow, harvest, process, transport, and distribute food while minimizing waste.” (See full text below)

That’s pretty radical stuff. And it goes further.

“A just and sustainable food system in Manitoba means farmers, fishers, harvesters, processors and distributors can generate adequate incomes and use ecologically sustainable practices.”

True, there is a wide array of opinions over what constitutes “ecologically sustainable practices,” but it’s hardly something someone associated with farming wants to be on the record as opposing. Or so you’d think.

And strangely enough, the statement sounds surprisingly similar to the policies of Keystone Agricultural Producers, which represents another “special interest group” – farmers.

KAP’s policy manual states: To achieve the goal of sustainable growth, agriculture needs programs that provide financial stability and reduce the fluctuations in income. KAP encourages the development of programs that facilitate stewardship and sustainable agriculture in a trade “green” manner.

The food charter says that a just and sustainable food system means a sustainable balance between fair international agricultural trade and diverse vibrant production for the local market.

KAP policy states: KAP supports the concept of free trade only where all trading partners are on a level playing field. KAP supports campaigns that educate urban and rural citizens on the importance of agriculture and the awareness and consumption of locally produced foods. KAP also supports the development of a food sovereignty movement that would ensure a viable agriculture industry in Canada.

The food charter supports province-wide availability of a variety of nutritious and affordable food through accessible retail outlets and food service operations and the economic means to obtain sufficient daily food for health and dignity; It promotes a well-grounded confidence in the quality and safety of our food as well as healthy relationships between producers and consumers in urban, rural and northern Manitoba communities;

From KAP’s policy manual: KAP strongly believes that rural residents have the right to expect and demand services equal in quality and cost to all other citizens in Manitoba, and commits to speaking on behalf of farmers and rural people. KAP believes that federal and provincial governments should have adequate surveillance of imported foods and food products, and that there should be effective grading and labelling regulations for these foods when sold in Canada.

Nope. These two groups would find very little to talk about if they found themselves in the same room. Besides, many of the people who have become involved with the Manitoba Food Security Network are young, energetic, and naive enough to believe that by working together, the food charter objectives might be achieved. What’s more, participants forked out extra for a gourmet feast of local foods linking producers with chefs.

When was the last time a farm meeting in this province was filled with young people or sold out with a waiting list for attendance?

Farm groups have been known to hold farmer-appreciation events in urban areas to remind consumers of their important role. Yet when an urban-based organization comes right out and says it appreciates farmers, it is viewed with suspicion.

Farmers can avoid or ignore the Manitoba Food Charter if they like. But it would seem that it is gaining momentum with or without them. [email protected]

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]



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