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Agr and Rural Life

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  • ibs_pei
    Report on the Agriculture and Rural Life Conference Mabou, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia July 19-20 • The Voice of the Primary Producer: Who is Listening? •
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 2, 2006
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      Report on the Agriculture and Rural Life Conference
      Mabou, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
      July 19-20
      • The Voice of the Primary Producer: Who is Listening?
      • Agriculture in Bay St. George South (Newfoundland)
      • The Place of Small Diversified Family Farms in the Rural Countryside
      • Farm Youths' Risk-Taking Behaviour and the Knowledge of Farm Safety
      • Green Care: The Farm as Part of the Health Care System
      • Off-Farm Work: What Value? Whose Values?
      • Climate Change and Cool Crops, Challenges, Opportunities, Risks
      • Grazing for Profit, Health and Environmental Benefits
      • Sustainability and Capacity Building in Rural Communities: Round
      Table Discussion
      • Excerpts from the keynote address of John Ikerd,
      `Sustaining the Common Wealth of Rural People and Places.'

      On August 19 and 20, 2006 approximately 50 people, mostly producers,
      plus academics and community leaders gathered in the small rural
      community of Mabou, Nova Scotia to lay the ground work for a new
      vision and direction for their rural community.

      John Ikerd, professor emeritus University of Missouri, gave the
      opening key note address. What followed was mostly a celebration and
      acknowledgment of the accomplishments of those who have been working
      hard to revitalize the human side of agriculture; where family,
      lifestyle, social responsibility, environmental stewardship and
      regionalism are once again becoming mainstream; displacing
      globalization and many of the errant experiments, of the past forty
      years, which attempted to industrialize and commodify all agricultural

      The following is an outline of the presentations and the lessons learned.

      The Voice of the Primary Producer: Who is Listening?
      Norman Goodyear; NS Agr. College

      Since the 1960's the `dominant' history of agriculture had been one of
      capitalization and mechanization.
      Globalization has led to the marginalization of small producers.
      Since the 1960's 10% of farm growth has been through government grants.
      Quote: Jane Jacobs, `The Dark Ages Ahead,' "We need more apprentices
      and fewer disciples."

      During the discussion that followed with the audience, it was pointed
      out that there is a counterpoint to the conventional outlook on the
      history of agriculture. Since the 1960's there has been a resurgence
      of small, diversified and organic producers; largely ignored , by
      government and conventional markets. Now that organic foods and
      regional markets are becoming more main stream these early pioneers
      are gaining wider recognition.
      The history of organic/alternative agriculture since the 1960's is a
      rich one drawing on the earlier research of Sir Albert Howard and
      books such as, `Farmers of Forty Centuries,' and Edward Faulkner's
      `Plowman's Folly.' The 1960' and 70's saw the rise of research by the
      Rodales, and the philosophical writing of Wendell Berry (`The
      Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture,' and `The Gift of Good
      Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural,' among others). In
      the 1970's Wes Jackson founded the Land Institute and the secret
      knowledge of Rudolf Steiner's `Biodynamic Agriculture' became
      publically accessible.
      After the untimely, accidental deaths of Alan Chadwick and Robert
      Rodale people such as John Jeavons showed market gardeners `how to
      grow more vegetables on less land than they ever imagined.' and the
      Japanese agriculture extension agent Masanobu Fukuoka started a `one
      straw revolution' by defining a `natural way of farming.'
      During this time, authors and homesteaders Scott and Helen Nearing,
      became the gurus of the back to the land movement and trained
      thousands of young people to `live the good life' by market gardening
      and living in harmony with the land, their neighbours and their beliefs.
      And Bill Mollison founded `Permaculture' as an ethical design system
      applicable to food production and land use, as well as community

      These and other early pioneers of the back to the land movement were
      really signaling the need to get back to basics. They sought the
      creation of productive and sustainable ways of living by integrating
      ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and philosophy.

      Today, globalization advocates recognize `organics' as a new market
      opportunity. This trend is good in that it may help to reduce the
      amounts of pesticides being introduced into our environment. However,
      what global marketeers fail to realize is that the revolution that
      began in the 60's is not merely about the elements themselves, but
      rather, it is about the relationships: the careful and contemplative
      observation of nature and natural systems, and of recognizing
      universal patterns and principles, then learning to apply these
      `ecological truisms' to one's own circumstances within their
      communities and bioregions.

      Agriculture in Bay St. George South (Newfoundland)
      Erin Bourgeois, Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial University

      This region's agriculture is supported with public pastures, community
      vegetable storage facilities and a cooperative abattoir. Challenges
      persist due to relatively low income levels in the region and
      corresponding low education and that large population centres are far
      Trends: The majority of farms are less than 20 years old, agriculture
      focusing on a commodity based structure (86% root crops - Potatoes,
      Carrots and Rutabagas) continues to struggle, 73% of the producers
      sell to wholesalers, 63% moving into direct marketing, 13% have begun
      doing some agri-tourism including the provincial `Open Farm Day', only
      27% have a marketing plan, very few (if any) advertise their products,
      government is working to develop a "Newfoundland" brand ( a trend
      similar to almost every province in the country) based on "safe,
      environmentally conscious, and local."

      While the speaker pointed out that more study was required to develop
      and sustain agriculture in the region, it was suggested during open
      discussion that regions like this may benefit from
      permaculture/bioregional planning where zones of influence are
      identified; more remote zones focus on agroforestry, pasture and
      orchards and row crops and more perishable foods are grown closer to
      population centres. The move away from commodity based agriculture was
      viewed as a positive initiative.

      The Place of Small Diversified Family Farms in the Rural Countryside
      Sue Machum, St. Thomas University

      This presentation focused on the plight of `industrial vs.
      non-industrialized agriculture and the resulting crisis of people
      leaving the countryside. How can rural communities be developed if
      people continue to move away? What is needed to sustain our rural
      Government policy continues to support the push for farms to get big
      and to mechanize (i.e. reduce labour). This has led to the demise of
      many small farms and rural residents.
      Although the overall number of farms has been drastically reduced, 25%
      are still small farms. This shows that there is a persistence among
      some to retain rural lifestyles and traditional small farm values.
      In the 1970's there was a mass exodus of farms and rural residents.
      Today, 82% of Canadians live in urban environments. However, in
      Atlantic Canada 52% still live in rural countryside.

      A passionate and lively discussion followed. Some farmers felt that
      the some traditional farm organizations did not represent the
      interests of the new, small farmer and that the policies that they
      lobbied government to protect where those that protected only large
      farmers and/or unsustainable systems. One suggestion was made that the
      required farm registration fees should include membership to ACORN as
      well as the Federation of Agriculture or the National Farmers Union.
      Others suggested that farmers who are now required, by law, to join
      the existing representative organizations should be encouraged to
      become more actively involved. It was pointed out that the president
      of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture is a certified organic

      Farm Youths' Risk-Taking Behaviour and the Knowledge of Farm Safety
      Lauranne Sanderson NS Agr. College

      Farming is the third most dangerous occupation.
      1 in 10 farmers suffers a serious accident each year.
      There is a serious and constant need to raise awareness and increase
      safety standards on farms.

      In later discussion it was again pointed out that the emerging themes
      of the day which emphasized small farms and community-based
      agriculture also support more human scale technology with fewer
      environmental and/technological hazards.
      It was also suggested that while safety is an important concern that
      legislation should not regulate to the point where children and the
      elderly are denied the need to feel like important contributors to the
      families work. However, common sense must prevail so that 10 year
      olds are not operating heavy equipment etc.

      Green Care: The Farm as Part of the Health Care System
      Tarjei Tennessen, NS Agr. College

      In Norway some farms are being used to provide therapeutic
      environments where helping to make things grow and caring for animals
      is proving to provide health benefits to the infirm.
      It was emphasized that this realization is not new but as an official
      government regulated health care system, it is a new development.
      It was also noted that in order for it to be therapeutic the farm
      needs to be a warm, caring environment. Factory style hog, chicken,
      cattle or dairy farms or large acreage of row crops all managed from
      behind the wheel of a tractor was not considered to be therapeutic.
      However, the concept may offer significant diversification
      opportunities for small farms with free range animals and market gardens.
      For more information register your interests at www.farmingforhealth.org

      Off-Farm Work: What Value? Whose Values?
      Elizabeth Beaton, Cape Breton University

      In 1991 90% of farm income came from off-farm.
      Multi-occupation has become the norm rather than the exception.
      On the negative side, this draws people away from agriculture and may
      eventually force them to leave the farm/community to pursue full-time
      work in the urban areas.

      On the positive side, off-farm work provides an opportunity for
      personal growth, development and global awareness. The increasing
      access to information technology is allowing more people to work from
      home and diversify there rural income.

      "It is not what you do, but who you are."

      Climate Change and Cool Crops, Challenges, Opportunities, Risks
      Jamey Coughlin NS Department of Agriculture
      Allan Kwabiah, Atlantic Cool Climate Research Centre
      Natasha Power, NS Agr. College

      Climate change is an inevitable shift that farmers must adapt to.
      Increasing rain, cooler summers with intermittent hot spells, and
      warmer winters with occasional harsh storms will impact cultural
      Some farmers may experiment with plastic ground covers and or season
      extenders for non-traditional crops. Ecological and economic costs
      will vary with these systems. And they may be adding to the climate
      change problem rather that working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
      Insects will be a greater problem if winters continue to be milder.
      Fluctuations in storms and temperatures will add new pressures on
      insect and disease control.
      New opportunities may arise as a result of being able to grow crops
      that previous generations could not grow (i.e. olives now being grown
      in the UK)

      Grazing for Profit, Health and Environmental Benefits
      Ralph Martin NS Agr. College

      Pastures without fertilizer and pesticides will sustain soil quality,
      reduce fuel use, mitigate green house gas emissions, reduce nutrient
      losses, improve nutrient and energy efficiency, increase soil C and
      microbial activity as indicators of soil health over time, improve
      water quality and improve partial profitability and productivity under
      grazing in contrast to confinement systems.

      The research evaluated grazing versus confinement feeding and the
      comparative performance sod-seeded red clover selections with respect
      to plant yield, forage quality, and persistence.
      The experiment was conducted in summers on white clover-timothy-blue
      grass based paddocks on pastures at the Nova Scotia Agricultural
      College. Sub-paddocks were divided into five groups. Lamb and cattle
      groups are being assessed for effects on manure decomposition and
      nutrient cycling, partial profitability, forage yield, meat yield and
      quality, stocking rate and animal health, including parasite loads.
      Red clover lines are being evaluated to assess yields (in particular
      during summer droughts), quality and persistence under aggressive
      rotational grazing.

      Sustainability and Capacity Building in Rural Communities: Round Table

      The relationships we build need to move beyond just local foods to
      servicing and providing local energy and local building materials; to
      providing for local needs.

      Your life is as good as your community.

      We must create a place where our children and our children's children
      will stay and grow.

      Sustainability is more than an economic ideal. It is about shared
      leadership, shared responsibility, shared rewards, shared wealth,
      community and stewardship.

      Nurture don't dominate.

      The challenges ahead make for critical and exciting times.

      Rural depopulation is a global phenomenon. We need culturally
      appropriate re-development.

      Institute for Global Ethics -
      Mission: Promote ethical behavior in individuals, institutions, and
      nations through research, public discourse, and practical action
      As a nonsectarian, nonpartisan, global research and educational
      membership organization, we strive always to be:

      * Honest and truthful in all our dealings
      * Responsible and accountable in every transaction
      * Fair and equitable in each relationship
      * Respectful and mindful of the dignity of every individual
      * Compassionate and caring in each situation

      Get political. Elected representatives have the power to change policies.

      Rural people need to stand up for rights.

      There are no "rights" just shared responsibilities.

      We can choose to be the architects of an inspiring and promising
      future or the defenders of our inevitable demise.

      77% of conventional farmers have no successor. 35% of these farmers
      plan to retire by 2010.

      Think like a watershed. Define zones where appropriate building,
      agricultural and/or business activity takes place.
      Nearly 60% of all new farmers are first generation farmers.
      70% of new farmers are either first or second generation.
      90% of new farmers are highly diversified and over 90% of them would
      recommend to other farmers to become highly diversified.
      90% of new farmers have off farm income (same for traditional farmers).
      95.8% of new farmers sell directly from farm to consumers through farm
      gate, farmers markets and/or Community Supported Agriculture Projects
      Over 50% of market farmers, in N. America, grow on five acres or less.

      The survival of the family farm (and the majority of new farms)
      depends on increasing diversity and capturing a percentage of the
      sales at the retail level.

      There is a strong need for government and institutional support for
      new, small scale farmers. If our educators and legislators continue to
      ignore the geometric growth of small farmers, then their programs and
      their advice will soon become obsolete to the majority of farmers.

      Build relationships (`Value Chains') not just with people within the
      food sector (i.e. shippers, packers, processors, wholesalers and
      retailers) but look beyond the agriculture/agri-food sector and
      create partnerships with developers, entertainers, tour companies,
      chefs, health practitioners, and social service providers.

      Sell knowledge, skills and an experience; think of your crop as a
      by-product to the information and experience you have to offer.

      Agri-tourism will continue to grow in its importance. Since 2001 the
      majority of the world's population has been living in urban
      environments. For the first time in the history of civilization we
      will be raising a generation of children, the majority of whom have no
      connection to the farm nor have even seen the stars at night. The
      farm as an experience will be more valuable and more unique than the
      food it provides.

      The small farm revolution has redefined how we think about our food
      and our environment. It is now redefining how we value wealth,
      knowledge, security and community.

      More and more farmers and their customers are meeting through farmers
      markets, roadside stands, community supported agriculture
      organizations (CSAs), and other forms of direct marketing. A doubling
      of the number of farmers' markets during the 1990s and persistent
      growth in CSAs and other forms of direct sales attested to the growth
      of this new niche market. A growing number of retail food
      cooperatives, health food stores, and even specialty organic food
      stores also provide important new market outlets for locally grown
      and/or organic foods.

      Three goals:
      • Support local farmers by providing them with a market for the food
      they raise,
      • Provide customers with fresh, natural foods raised humanely, without
      hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics, and
      • Raise animals and crops in a manner which protects and conserves the
      precious resources upon which they rely.
      Excerpts from the keynote address of John Ikerd,
      `Sustaining the Common Wealth of Rural People and Places.'

      The indigenous people and the European settlers of North America lived
      in rural areas to realize the inherent value of natural resources
      located in rural areas. However, most rural communities today are the
      remnants of farming communities.

      As agriculture has adopted the industrial strategies of
      specialization, standardization, and consolidation of control –
      agricultural productivity has increased dramatically, but rural
      communities have been left in decline and decay – used up, farmed out.

      Once thriving rural communities have withered and died as farm
      families have been forced off the land by chronic production surpluses
      that have depressed prices for the things they sell, as costs have
      risen relentlessly for the things farmers must buy.

      When we consider the historic purpose of rural communities, we begin
      to understand that the increases in unemployment, poverty, and public
      dependency in rural areas are all symptoms of the continued extraction
      of economic wealth from rural areas.

      It is intuitively obvious that the continued extraction and
      exploitation of rural resources quite simply is not sustainable.

      Farmers, consumers, rural leaders, and policy makers at all levels of
      government need to understand why it is critically important to
      sustain the wealth of rural people and places, not only for
      individuals but also for society as a whole.

      The hope for the future of rural areas in restoring the health and
      vitality of the living things in rural communities – the wealth in the
      land and people of rural places. Sustainable economic and community
      development must mimic the processes of living, biological systems. A
      sustainable society clearly must be built upon the foundation of a
      self-renewing, regenerative, sustainable agriculture because to
      sustain life we must sustain food production.
      Sustainable farms must be ecologically sound, socially responsible,
      and economically viable. A farm that degrades the productivity of the
      land or pollutes its natural environment cannot sustain its
      productivity. A farm that fails to meet the needs of a society – not
      only as consumers, but also as producers and citizens – cannot be
      sustained over time by that society. And, a farm that is not
      financially viable is not sustainable, no matter how ecologically and
      socially sound it may seem to be in the short run. Sustainable
      agriculture is the only known means of sustaining human society.

      While the forces of industrialization are strong, the forces of
      sustainability are even more powerful. The forces now pulling farmers
      toward sustainability are the unrelenting forces of human nature. We
      saw these powerful forces reconnecting people with the land in the
      growing popularity of organic farming, but we now see them even more
      clearly in the movement beyond organics to sustainably and locally
      grown foods. People are being drawn toward reconnecting with farmers,
      toward community-based food systems, by the natural attraction of
      human relationships.

      Increasingly, consumers want to know where their food comes from, how
      it is produced, and who produced it. Local is becoming the new
      organic, as more people want food they can trust produced by someone
      they know and trust.

      Sustainable farmers today have an opportunity to help create a new
      food production and marketing mainstream by giving these like-minded
      customers foods that reflect their shared values. Sustainable farmers
      continue to find new allies as more independent food processors,
      distributors, and retailers realize they face the same kinds of
      challenges and have the same kinds of opportunities as do independent
      family farmers.

      Today, the sustainable/local movement stands at a critical stage of
      its development. If sustainable farmers can successfully restore the
      integrity of relationships with their customers through these
      higher-volume markets, they will have created a sustainable ecological
      and social foundation for long-run rural economic development. They
      will be able to sustain the natural and social wealth of rural people
      and rural places. Rural people again will have a purpose for living
      and working in rural places. It's too early to predict success, but
      neither is it logical to expect failure.

      Regardless of out ultimate response to the challenges of
      sustainability, we simply cannot continue doing what we have been
      doing to rural areas. Industrial economic development quite simply is
      not sustainable because its productivity relies on extraction and
      exploitation; it does nothing to renew or regenerate either the
      natural or human resources that must sustain the future of humanity.
      Industrialization inevitably tends toward entropy.

      As farmers build trusting, caring relationships with their customers
      and their neighbors, they are working against the forces of
      industrialization, but they are working with the irresistible urge of
      people to find ways to reconnect with each other, both within and
      across generations. As we find ways to sustain the common wealth of
      rural people and rural places, we are finding ways to sustain humanity.

      For a complete transcript of John Ikerd's keynote address write to:
      or contact the PEI ADAPT Council office at: adapt@... or
      phone (902) 368-2005
      or 1-800-561-5433.

      An excellent, simple to read, new resource book which supports the
      understanding and direction of most participants at the conference:
      `Micro-Eco-Farming: Prospering from Backyard to Small Acreage In
      Partnership with the Earth," by Barbara Berst Adams; New World Publishing

      Also See: Alternative Farming Systems Information Centre; USDA
    • Gloria C. Baikauskas
      Thanks for posting this! Great read with lots of information in the links within it. Gloria, Texas
      Message 2 of 2 , Aug 7, 2006
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        Thanks for posting this! Great read with lots of information in the
        links within it.

        Gloria, Texas
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