Is it cool to be a farmer?
Photo Credit: Nikao Media
by Agnes Chung
Musicians, artists and even chefs are considered “cool” people. But how often do we hear that of farmers? Without farmers, we may not have food on our table.
Farmers grow crops or raise living organisms such as livestock, poultry or seafood for food or raw materials. They are an integral part of the society, and help reinforce Canada’s food sovereignty.
“We always say, it’s definitely cool to be a water buffalo farmer. If you ever heard of Veggie Tales, everybody wants a water buffalo, we have them. That just means we are the coolest people there is,” chuckles Brad Bennik of Langley-based Tesfa Farms.
Tesfa means hope in Ethiopian language. Tesfa represents who they are and how they want to farm. As a farmer, Bennik says, “You get to see different things. It’s not boring at all. Every day is an adventure. There’s a lot of work, you are always problem solving, and having to think your way through things.”
Probably, the best and fun part is seeing a big smile and astonishment on people’s faces when they try his buffalo milk for the first time, he adds. The milk is surprisingly rich, delicious and not gamey in taste.
He knows his animals by name. “Every day when you walk out into the pasture, it’s like 100 pets walk past you. You feed them and see them grow. Water buffalo can live 20 years, so you get to know them, their daughters and granddaughters. It’s just a big family. That’s cool!”
Bennik grew up as a farmer. He says it’s a great way to raise a family, and instill a good work ethic in them. Work schedule is dependent on the animals. The whole family is involved. “I’ve got my kids feeding calves, and stacking hay, it’s all hard work, but fun family time as well.”
His favourite days are checking fences, observing the farm, seeing the grass grow, and enjoying the peace and tranquility of nature. Bennik encourages young people to take up farming.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be your primary occupation, but at some level, being connected to a farm and being able to work with the animals, work with the land, it’s just got such value in perspective to you as a person. You can be connected to where your food is coming from. It’s always a good thing.”
Create life and cherish nature
“When children put their hands into soil to place a young plant or a seed, they are essentially creating life. And life that will basically inspire a generation of young people to cherish the soil that provides that life,” says forestry tech turned farmhand, Derrick Malpage of Ladner-based Keith’s Organic Produce.
“It’s a wonderful feeling, especially for children, if you give them that option or opportunity. But once everything is grown, everyone can reap the benefits of the healthy organic food.”
“I think the greatest or most rewarding joy of being a farmer or a farmhand is knowing that the stewardship of that land will basically live on. When you are working with the land, it gives you a feeling like you are taking care of your mother, after she has taken care of you.”
“You can’t put your hands into soil if it’s a paved parking lot,” he said citing beautiful parcels of farmland now being paved over for whatever reason.”
Agricultural Land Reserve and government programs
Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) currently comprises less than 5 percent of B.C.’s total land base. We asked the Ministry of Agriculture if the Ministry plans to increase the percentage of the ALR, particularly in rural areas in the next five years. There was no definitive answer.
B.C. Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, in her email response said protecting farmland for future generations is “one of her top priorities.” “That’s why I strengthened the laws in B.C. to protect farmland. We’ve banned mega-mansions, deterred fill-dumping and strengthened the Agricultural Land Commission’s (ALC) authority to advance its mandate to protect farmland and encourage farming.” B.C. landowners interested to have their land designated as ALR can contact the ALC.
Popham said she is “focused on helping farmers develop their businesses, assisting new farmers to get started, and promote careers and literacy in agriculture through several initiatives.” Among them are the B.C. Land Matching and Buy BC programs, Feed BC, New Entrant Agrologist, and 4-H program for youth.
Income and job opportunities
Opportunities in farming look promising. Canada is a global leader in agriculture, and one of the world’s largest agricultural producers and exporters.
“Already, many aspects of Canadian farming and food production are at the forefront of innovation. We are at the cutting edge of a new agricultural revolution,” says John Stackhouse, Royal Bank Canada senior vice president, and contributor to Farmer 4.0, a recently-released RBC report.
In the 2018 Agri-Food Economic Strategy Tables Report, the federal government’s target for its agri-food sector is $140 billion in domestic sales and $85 billion in exports by 2025 – an increase of 32 and 27 percent respectively from 2017.