Monday, August 23, 2010


When we wanted entertaining and sensational news when I was a child, we tuned our TV antennae away from our local newscasts and tuned in over the border to American news, usually from Buffalo, but we also got all the Rochester channels too. In the 1970's and 80's, the difference in entertainment value between Tom Gibney, News Anchor, CTV evening news at 6:15 on Channel 9 Toronto and Irv Weinstein, News Anchor at Channel 7 WKBW Buffalo was as great as the current difference between endless CSPAN monologues and Fox News Networks. To put this difference in perspective, despite a population five times as large as Buffalo, Toronto evening news, weather and sports remained 15 minutes long until I was in high school. Even the American weather forecast's were glitzier, with Tom Jolls standing outside in all weathers with live radar, neat graphics and his weather word of the day. I liked the forecasts although they almost never actually applied in temperature or precipitation to our situation, a hundred air miles north by northeast of Buffalo. Thanks to CRTC's heavy handed regulations and also thanks to having government run CBC as the only real competition, there was no real reason to do better, so for a very long time nobody did. About the time I graduated from high school, the situation changed. A number of upstarts decided to take on the monopolies at CBC and CTV by offering a hugely better viewing experience.

The same sort of thing is happening in farming today. Farming has become a very solitary occupation in the past fifty years. As such, many of the people drawn toward farming tend not to have a whole lot of marketing or people skills. It's my belief that more often than not, farmers have isolated themselves and too often the only message they hear comes from the folks they associate with in government and in agribusiness. It sometimes seems to me that an entire generation of farmers has lost the ability to think and act independently and I find this very upsetting and sad.

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave to me was teaching me to be unafraid to think independently. A stock line at every coffee shop in farm country is, "There ain't no money in farming." A more accurate assessment (and one which was never allowed to pass unspoken in my family) is that there isn't any money in farming when you do things the way the speaker chose to do, so why not choose a different path and see if that worked out better ? For years, heavy handed government involvement and paternalistic and monopolistic agribusinesses have done their very best to put the brakes on anyone attempting to do better with a system of incentives and punishments.

In spite of this, just like the upstart TV stations in Toronto twenty years ago, there are a lot of people who want to do better, and they aren't taking no for an answer. In the same way that neither the CBC nor the CTV were worried about the upstarts in 1989, until now both government and agribusiness have poo-poohed the alternatives. Believe me when I say that in the last few years, they have stopped poo-poohing and they are sitting up and taking notice. Like everyone else, I see the future through a glass, darkly...which is to say not at all ! But I have a feeling that we are on the cusp of an explosion of choices in how we choose to procure our food and I am very, very excited about it.

1 comment:

Sylvia said...

Some one once commented about 'dumb farmers'. Quite the contrary, farmers are smart...and have to be to wise in many ways to do well.
Jason, I'm glad you're writing more on this blog, it's been great reading-educational. Thanks.