No Canadian fall would be complete without apple-picking and pumpkin patches. As picturesque apple orchards dotted in ripe fruit and friends holding pumpkins fill our social media feeds, the spotlight of the season falls on farms. When we think of farms in the fall, we picture beautiful fields, leaves changing color, and farmers happily picking apples to be sold at the farmer’s market and opening their farms to anyone else wishing to take advantage of the final few weeks of decent weather. However, the reality for farmers is far from this.
Instead of this picturesque, natural, wholesome image, farms today are more factory-like and business-oriented. “I think that more guys are treating it more like a business and less like a lifestyle,” claims Canadian farmer John Kowalchuk. He explains: “For the longest time I think farmers kind of felt it was a lifestyle and as long as we did everything right and watched everything and tried not to overspend that everything would be fine. But it doesn’t work that way… people are having to look at being smarter with how they spend their money.”
Those who aren’t able to switch over to this new definition of farming are leaving the practice entirely; based on the consistent decrease in the number of farmers in Canada in recent years, many aren’t willing to adjust. This process is known as “farm consolidation”, and just like the increasingly business and technology orientated nature of farms, it’s tearing apart farming communities.
“Farm consolidation will mean a more efficient and financially resilient agricultural sector,” claims Gwyn Morgan, who lived through the changes in Canadian agricultural practices having grown up on her parents’ farm in the West. “But it also means the demise of the unique Prairie culture that produced generations possessing a sound work ethic and resilience to adversity. And true community values that are becoming all too rare.”
Several reasons exist for these changes in farming practices. To begin with, the increase in efficiency due to new technology is allowing fewer farmers to work more land – while the percentage of farmers in Canada is perpetually decreasing, the average size of their farms is growing by as much as 6% from 2011 to 2016. Furthermore, society as a whole values cheap food over sustainable practices, putting a lot of pressure on farmers to cut costs in any way possible – if they fail, they go out of business. With these new difficulties for farmers, and foreign producers selling their produce for lower costs than what Canadian farmers can compete with, it’s no surprise technology and business have become more important to farmers than the practice itself. Agriculture is becoming agribusiness, and many farmers are caving under the pressure to work so-called ‘normal’ office jobs instead, despite the toll this is taking on their communities.
So, next time you go apple-picking in the fall, or pass by piles of pumpkins ready to be carved, consider the cost that these activities have had on nearby communities. The picturesque apple orchards and pumpkin patches we visit don’t accurately depict what’s going on behind the scenes.