Too often we get caught up in the economic impacts that the loss of an industry can have. We never talk about the social costs of the disappearing jobs. In my own community I have witnessed the devastation to the rural social fabric that follows a major loss of jobs. Children have left rural schools as their families search for better opportunities elsewhere; heck, we haven’t had a full slate of hockey teams in Wallace Township since I was playing peewee. I look at what my own family does in the community, whether it is at church or in a sports league, and knowing that we are no different than any other farm family, you can multiply what we do by the other 418 pig-farming families to get an idea of what pig farmers in Perth county do for their communities. Here is a letter to the editor that I wrote for the Guelph Mercury earlier this year:
I am a pig farmer. I come from a family of pig farmers who have worked our whole lives to provide safe and healthy food for people here in Ontario. But my industry is sinking, and I want to tell you what that means.
Our farm, one of 2,800 pig farms in Ontario, is slightly smaller than the provincial average and by global standards we are tiny. Yet my family produces enough food to supply pork for almost 30,000 Ontarians every year. We inject almost $800,000 into the local economy. The 2,800 pig farmers in the province are part of a $4.7 billion industry.
It’s more than about numbers. Today we are in a tailspin. Financial hardships devastated pig farmers over the past three years; culminating with the H1N1 virus. Misconceptions about the safety of pork and the inappropriate name “swine flu” have done untold damage to pork producers. We’re in grave danger of seeing farm families disappear because of the H1N1 crisis.
Here’s what it means.
Greater environmental impact. if Ontarians cannot purchase pork grown here in Ontario, they will be forced to consume a product that has spent days on a truck while burning countless liters of diesel fuel. Much of the imported pork will travel over 1000 kilometers before ending up in your local grocery store; purchasing Ontario grown product helps to reduce the impact we make on our planet.
Disappearing family farms. The Ontario hog industry is dominated by small family farms such as my own, whereas many of the regions that currently import pork into Ontario are controlled by large corporations that do not feel the same way about the environment or their animals as we do here in Ontario.
Fragile rural communities. Southwestern Ontario is dotted with small towns that rely on agriculture to keep local businesses alive. The loss of local pig farms goes beyond simple economics; children from pig farms fill rural schools and join local sports teams, making farm families an integral piece of small town Ontario.
It is hard to describe in words the passion that I have for farming. I get to wake up every morning and produce food for people. I genuinely love caring for animals and it is my hope that I can protect the environment around my farm for generations to come. Ontarians can help preserve farms like mine by renewing their dedication to purchasing locally grown pork. By doing so, you are helping a group of individuals who produce pork that is among the safest and healthiest in the world.
Now a challenge for all readers: if you are a pig farmer, start telling our great story and if you know sources of locally grown pork or other local products, promote them diligently. If you are not a farmer, I call on you to make a difference with your food purchasing. Sure you may save 25 cents a pound by buying the imported loin on special at Zhers but you just contributed to the demise of your pig-farming neighbour.
I close with a quote from Oscar Wilde; I think these words hold special meaning for hog farmers trying to survive right now:
“Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”
Editor’s Note: Stewart Skinner is a farmer and student in Ontario, Canada. He is working on his PhD at the University of Guelph.
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