Frank Stronach: How Canada can become a world leader in the production of organic foods

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We need a program that would allow the government to preserve our farmland by buying abandoned farms and leasing out the land to young Canadian families or individuals who want to take up a career growing food

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Jul 26, 202221 hours ago3 minutes read 62 comments LFP20210804MH028 Photo by Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network

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Of the many factors that have a bearing on our health and happiness, one of the greatest is food.

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We have seen an alarming rise in childhood obesity, not just in Canada but around the world, as well as diabetes and other illnesses linked to unhealthy diets.

As I wrote in a previous column, when it comes to ensuring our health, I believe there is nothing better for us than natural foods. That’s why I believe the government should get behind a transition to organics — especially for our children. Unfortunately, the shift to organic traction foods has been slow to gain.

Ever since I opened an all-organic restaurant and marketplace a few years ago, I’ve met many organic farmers from all over southern Ontario. I regularly visit them to source vegetables, fruits and dairy products, as well as such meats as beef, pork and chicken. They have a tough go of it. They’re putting in a lot of hours and working their fingers to the bone to make money.

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In addition to what Mother Nature throws at farmers—everything from droughts to hailstorms—they have to deal with all kinds of pests. And because organic farmers don’t use pesticides and other chemicals, they have to find natural remedies, while also resigning themselves to the fact that they will lose a certain portion of their crops.

It’s one of the reasons organic food costs more. But just because it costs more doesn’t mean the profit margins enjoyed by organic farmers are necessarily higher. Often times, they aren’t. For many of them, organic farming is a labor of love — a passionate belief that we should not harm the earth or people by putting chemicals into the foods we eat.

Much of the organic foods grown in Canada come from small family farms. These farms tend to be more bio-diverse and grow multiple crops, and they also are more likely to use natural methods of pest control and more organic regenerative soil practices.

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But our small family farmers need support. Most farmers make very little money for all of the toil they put into growing our food. To make matters worse, the children who grow up on family farms increasingly want to leave in search of more lucrative careers, rather than take over the farm from their parents.

Sadly, the era of the family farm being passed down from one generation to the next may be coming to an end. I’ve seen more and more deserted farm fields on the rural fringe of the booming suburbs that ring big cities like Toronto. Those barren farms are increasingly being bought up by housing developers or large multinational agribusinesses.

That’s why, if we want to preserve our agriculture, we need to think about how we can ensure that small family farmers get a fair wage for the work they do.

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Canada should develop a national strategy to reinvigorate our family farms and further the much-needed transition to organic farming. As part of the national strategy, I would propose creating a Canadian family farms trust fund — a program that would allow the government to preserve our farmland by buying abandoned farms and leasing out the land to young Canadian families or individuals who want to take up a career growing food.

Most small family farms simply can’t compete with the larger industrial farms, but with our help, they could lead the transition to organic foods. It will take time — probably around five to 10 years at a minimum — and there will be missteps along the way and experimentation involving different crops, but the time to start is now, especially if Canada wants to be a world leader in the production of organic foods.

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I predict that the trend toward organic foods is only going to grow stronger in the years ahead. Canada should seize the opportunity to become a world leader in the field, all while enhancing the health and well-being of all Canadians.

We owe it to our small family farmers. And we owe it to our children.

National Post
[email protected]

Frank Stronach is the founder of Magna International Inc., one of Canada’s largest global companies, and an inductee in the Automotive Hall of Fame.

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