I’ve had a tough day, a tough summer and in a lot of ways a tough life. As farmers we sometimes get labeled as whiners. I dare any one of you to try to make a living the way we do. I’m struggling with a lot of things today. Unfortunately it’s not the first time and I’m not the only one feeling this way. So here it is. This is what it too often feels like to be a modern farmer.
I almost deleted this several times….I don’t want to abuse your attention, but no; the message needs to get out there. Please share this as much as you can.
This message comes from the heart. As I write, all I really want to do is be rid of this farm and the battle against insurmountable odds that I have been locked in for nearly 30 years. (And keep in mind that Elmridge is often held up as a shining example of prosperity in Nova Scotia agriculture) Those of you who buy from us online or through wholesale will have received an email last week apologizing for poor customer service resulting from some tough family matters we are trying to somehow deal with without skipping a beat on the farm. And I promise you, the farm is partly what put us there. We don’t have the luxury of taking time for ourselves. We have just been through three incredibly tough years that have seen us work harder than ever before for next to nothing. We are struggling our way through yet another season of impossible odds. Too few employees on the farm. Trying to become “compliant” with the latest government demands (and catch up on those that we haven’t been able to meet yet). Dealing with increasingly volatile weather conditions….. We have embarked on a project that would see us take cull vegetables and dehydrate them to create value added products…..they call it value adding; really, it’s just code for “running a second business to cover the economic shortfall of the farm”. With a half million tied up already the project stands unfinished for lack of skilled labour, building materials and processing equipment (that we paid for in February) sitting in a warehouse oversees for lack of a shipping container. More than a half million dollars tied up and no returns on the investment in sight. Should we have embarked on this project during COVID? Well, it’s do or die. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for better times.
As if that’s not enough. Thursday evening, Adrian, a long time Mexican employee who also has two sons working at Elmridge (one of whom is engaged to my daughter) got the news that his father in law in Mexico passed away suddenly. Adrian and his two sons along with Gillian flew to Mexico on Saturday. They’ll be gone for 10 days, assuming government doesn’t hinder them from getting back…..I’m a bit worried on that. The real kicker is that Adrian is never coming back to the farm. He has to stay in Mexico to keep running his family farm and be with his wife and two smaller children now that her father is gone. After 12 years with us we are going to sorely miss him for both the relationship and the leading role he played on our farm.
We fully respect, understand and support the needs of Adrian and his family. The real problem is that we were just barely holding it together, for lack of help on the farm, as it was. (And, before we lost four more key crew members, I was , maybe naively, optimistic that we would pull it off without too much calamity; although we were slowly slipping behind ) The lack of help is a direct result of government policy and the affluent, entitled society we live in. (Cyncal…but very true) Agriculture is the very basis of every modern society, without it we have only anarchy and famine. Yet it is taken for granted by most and given extremely little respect……let me rephrase that…..too many people know they need a stable food supply but they don’t respect the pawns (more commonly known as farmers) who make it happen. We regularly pay our respects to military and police personnel for their service. Fair enough. As a farmer I am 10-20 times more likely to die on the job than someone in the military or RCMP. Doesn’t seem to matter. Instead we are told to buckle down and stop being so dangerous….and oh…..do it with less money.
The long awaited robot arrived an hour ago and I just came back from a field that I’d been purposely avoiding because I knew trouble was brewing. Weeds are out of control to the point that even the robot is going to be challenged. It’s interesting that over the years I’ve developed a sort of phobia of checking fields because it is extremely stressful to know that a lot of work has to be done but have no way of getting it done. ‘Soul crushing’ is how I described it in another post.
Yet, over the years, we have stayed fairly optimistic about the future. We have two children, 19 and 21 years old, who are interested in farming which is something very rare indeed; a testament to the hard work, dedication and successes we have seen over the years. Our kids are inspired to continue what we have started. I would argue that the life I have lived is more rewarding and has more meaning than most could even imagine. To continue a legacy started by my grandfather and set the next generation up to continue is a life well lived. I am the farm. The farm is me. I am very happy with what we have achieved but the price we paid to get this far was too high and, as much as I try, I can’t see past the noose that irresponsible bureaucracy and societal apathy is tightening to the point of strangling even the most resilient of farmers. (and, believe me, most Canadians have no Idea of the meaning of the word “resilient”) I have been told time and time again that I remain unbelievably optimistic in the midst of terrible situations and impossible odds. My answer “when you’ve been to hell and back enough times the road no longer scares you”. That may sound over the top, but believe me; I’ve come out of it a very strong person, but; I wouldn’t wish my life on anyone. I was optimistic that our kids could take over what we started and be Ok; not having to go through as much hardship as we went through but it is becoming more apparent every year that society is just going to demand more and more at an ever accelerating rate.
I know I am not alone in what I am feeling now. There are many more farmers on the verge of throwing up their hands in despair and giving up. The same reasons; way too many demands, too little reward and, most importantly, no time left for the things that matter in life. There is always concern about fair traded coffee and chocolate. The disparity that many farmers face in Canada is not as financially extreme as in third world countries but there is nothing fair about the burden we are being asked to bear without compensation in the name of toeing the line our society has chosen. To do so means giving up almost all personal time and freedom that most take for granted.
Tomorrow I will get up, put one foot in front of the other, and start to figure out how to get out of this mess, resilient I guess. But to logically look back at my life and then forward to what likely faces me would label this “insanity”. In a society seemingly so intent on the wellbeing of its members there must be a better way.
Just in case I am crazy enough to keep going….. which I probably am…next week there should be some nice shots of the robot that is hopefully part of a solution.
Keep eating your veggies.