October 7th, 2021
So it’s Thanksgiving again. A good time to look at the season to date and think about where we are headed.
As a farmer I hesitate to say this for fear of retribution from that wicked lady, Mother Nature…(and it’s a little bit against the farmers code of ethics); but this has been an exceptionally good growing season here in the Annapolis Valley. It’s been far from perfect but, especially after several years of brutal weather events, we have not had the feeling of having to fight the elements so hard on top of all of the other challenges.
I/we have been growing veggies since 1991 and I think this summer has seen the least amount of irrigation in those 30 years. Timing was good, quantities were sufficient and only a couple of times too much. I speak for only our tiny little corner of the universe that is Elmridge Farm. Only five to ten kilometres away there was much too much rain on several occasions. It always amazes me how localized rainfall can be, and almost always is.
Whether or not a good growing season translates into a good financial bottom line remains to be seen. The ironic truth is that it’s not uncommon that a big crop can lead to smaller profits in the end from lower prices and a much bigger volume to handle; which, of course, translates into higher operating costs. As an example, we’ve had to go looking for more bins to store crop. With the current lumber prices, we can’t justify building new bins, but we were successful in finding 175 used bins. Now we just have to find a home for some of the surplus between now and spring. How well we do with that will determine how successful the year is financially. The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that fresh produce sales have been decidedly sluggish so far this season. I’ve heard this from multiple sources…..not sure exactly what that says about support for local food production to go from an all time high interest in local a year ago to a big drop in demand, lower than 2019.
On that subject; the longer I farm the more I’m convinced that ‘buy local’ is a help but is not the answer for Nova Scotia agriculture. We need to be competitive in the world food market. This would require that fair trade be brought to Nova Scotia. You say “What? Fair trade only applies to poor countries where the farmers are being taken advantage of by corporations owned by the rich.” Not so. Trade is very unfair to the Nova Scotia horticulture industry. And it’s an unfairness that has been legislated by our own government and supported by under-informed or careless consumers and by corporations who are well aware of the situation but stand to gain from it (read ‘big box food stores’). As long as we, in horticulture, (I won’t comment on other parts of agriculture because I don’t consider myself well enough informed) are expected to meet requirements in the name of food safety, environmental safety and human decency/ safety (Safety is our new national religion, I know that’s cynical but it’s also eerily true) and continue to compete with outside food prices based on completely different, lower standards we do not have fair trade for Nova Scotia farmers. In its essence it is absolutely no better than what is happening to the folks who grow the coffee that keeps our society conscious and alert, or the cacao that keeps us all just an extra few pounds too heavy but happy . We are not starving or lacking for medical attention (although you could argue that point) but we are caught in a cycle that sees us dealing with rapidly increasing stress loads, lack of down time, and just a general lessening of quality of life in order to keep our multigenerational farms alive.
I don’t see ‘buy local’ paying my bills in the long run so we are now branching into manufacture in the hope of producing shelf stable products that can compete on the world stage. We will continue to supply the local market but feel that we need to branch out yet again to maintain stability and keep the ball that my grandparents started rolling in 1954, rolling into the future.
Most years I have a general feel of how well we are doing by mentally comparing the crop, sales, and general screw-ups from one year to the next. And, believe me, there are always screw-ups. For me, one of the hardest things about growing crops is that we start out each year with a 100% potential and, as the season wears on, one thing or another keeps chipping away until we are left with some fraction of what could potentially be. You’d think that I’d wise up and just accept that things will not ever be perfect (and I guess I do to some degree). But I am an eternal optimist (whether that serves me well or not) and keep coming back for more. It’s part of the farmers unwritten creed, “next year will be better”.
This year there are so many changes in input costs, retail markets, wholesale demand and even workforce (we are actually down about 12% on labour which is good for us, but sales are also down) that I can’t get any kind of a feel. We’ve seen more change in our business in the last two years than my parents would have seen in their entire farming career! All I have to go on this year are the financial numbers being generated. They’re OK but not nearly as good as the growing season (but, of course, you can’t please a farmer ;-)).
A short report on the “Feed NS Donations” page in our virtual store. There has certainly been some action. Keep it up! If you haven’t checked it out please do. It’s a way to make your donated dollars go farther and support more people in need by sharing the cost with Elmridge Farm and putting surplus product in the hands of those who need it. LINK ABOVE. Take a look.
So, rolling into Thanksgiving, we are thankful to be healthy, still in business, we have mostly ‘first world problems’ and a (potentially) bright future (…that eternal optimist thing again!). So “thank you!” to all of you who have continued to support your fellow citizens instead of saving as much income as possible for Walmart!
Keep eating your veggies!