What is Agriculture?
Webster’s Dictionary defines agriculture as “the science and art of farming; tillage, the cultivation of the ground, for the purpose of producing vegetables and fruits; the art of preparing the soil, sowing and planting seeds, caring for the plants and harvesting the crops. In the broad sense… gardening, horticulture, and the raising of livestock.”
I am a teacher and, in a previous life, a farm kid. Over the past six years, I have administered academic testing to children of all ages. The word “agriculture” comes as a vocabulary item on one of these tests, and I began to notice that very few children answered this item correctly by saying “farming”.
This phenomenon is intriguing because Victoria has such close proximity to one of the richest agricultural areas on the island. In this context, it was surprising to find that this word is not in common parlance anywhere from grade four up. This is in no way a condemnation of the school system, but may be a sign post for what is happening to our attitude about the value of farming or agriculture as a vital industry in our region. My concern became that we may be losing touch with what it means to produce food and its importance as an occupation.
For insight I decided to ask a few farmers what farming means to them and how farmers are perceived in the broader community. Farmer, Larry Sluggett feels that… “people really like farmers in general, but they don’t really understand what is involved in the realities of farming. The public tends to see it as an idyllic lifestyle, and forget that it is pretty intensive work – often out in the rain and cold. There are financial realities that have given rise to many ‘gentleman’ (gentleperson?) farmers, who have other jobs besides farming, or who have subsidized their farming with other work throughout,” as Larry says he did until about 15 years ago.
Fran Pugh felt that most people don’t use farm markets and “don’t think about farming at all unless they get stuck behind a tractor on West Saanich Road.” She feels that we have become very removed from the basics of where our food comes from.
Vern Michell says he thinks that the perception of farmers has improved over the last 15 years. At its lowest ebb in the early 90’s people did not seem to have a lot of respect for the farming way of life, but now more people are concerned with food supply and purchasing local food. Vern mentioned that he mostly talks to people who come to Mitchell’s Farm Market, so in a sense, “they are already committed to the idea of local food.” He and his family are doing all they can to mechanize the harvesting of crops and to use double cropping (June crop and fall crop) to get more production. Vern says, “it is a great time to be involved in farming. I can’t see the prices for produce going anywhere but up. Fuel costs and peak production in California will begin to make local food look very good indeed.” His is a fourth generation farm with six grandkids actively involved in farming operation or study.
So, what did I learn and can impart to you from this process? A common thread among all of the farmers that I spoke to was that they loved their job, and chose it because they were either born to it or wanted the life that comes from working a farm. They also expressed concern, because they feel that there are young people out there who want to be farmers, but will find it very difficult to do so in this area because of the prohibitive cost of land.
Now, back to those youngsters that don’t know the meaning of agriculture! If you are interested in local food supply, and having fresh veggies and fruit on your table, take your kids with you out to the farm markets and meet the farmers. And, just to keep an old teacher happy, throw around the word “agriculture” once in a while to reinforce that those beautiful fields out there are a lot more than just scenery. Perhaps you can discuss this with your kids when you are stuck behind a tractor!
Many farm markets on the Saanich peninsula are open year round, and the list of farms is available on line at: www.islandfarmfresh.com