Originally published October 9, 2020.
For over 5 years, Branding & Buzzing has been proud to work with Manitoba’s own Ellen Pruden, Canadian canola grower and director of Canola Eat Well. Winner of the 2020 Honourary Patron Award by Dietitians of Canada, Ellen has dedicated over 20 years of her life to not only canola and farming but building and nurturing connections between farmers, producers, restaurateurs and, of course, everyday people like you and us.
Aware of the shifts and impacts this year has had on other aspects of Canada’s food scene, we caught up with Ellen to find out how our country’s farmers are keeping up, and what you can do to get involved in the conversations around food and farming.
With the recent shifts in Canada’s major food industries, from restaurants to grocery, how do you feel the changes have impacted our nation’s farmers?
When the pandemic hit, the farmers were just heading into the fields in Western Canada to start planting all of their crops including canola seeds, soybeans and corn. They went ahead and kept doing what they always do, plant crops. Canada is one of many marketplaces that Canadian farmers supply to.
Trade is critically important for Canadian farmers so global trade has one of the largest impacts on them. What we have heard is that markets are still moving, and things are still open. Agriculture was deemed an essential service early on, so they were able to keep moving.
Some of the earlier concerns that would have been really farmer specific were about accessing seeds because seeds come from all around the world. Another concern was around accessing fuel or fertilizer. All of that worked out as trade across borders still happened, including across provincial borders as well.
Have there been any major challenges for farmers this year that may have been different to previous years?
For farmers, the challenges are always around Mother Nature, especially in the growing season. It can depend on if there’s too much rain or too little rain.
For example, canola requires ninety days for growing. In Western Canada, where the majority of canola is grown, the growing days can be from 90 to 110 and that’s our summer basically. Ideally, crops are growing in the end of April or early May and now (September) is the harvest. That window is all farmers have to plant, grow and harvest.
This is why Mother Nature is the biggest challenge when it comes to growing crops. This year, there have been regional challenges but overall, what we are hearing is that it has been a decent year with good returns coming back for farmers from the crops. farmers are completing harvest right now. Once harvest is complete and all the crops are off the land, the seeds will to into storage and be marketed or sold throughout the year.
From there, the challenge is whatever the world markets dictate on pricing for farmers. Farmers will then look to find the best pricing for their crops. They will be delivered to grain elevators and then the seeds are shipped to processing plants and end up on our grocery store shelves here in Canada and around the world.
In which ways are relationships and operations similar between Canadian farmers and our restaurateurs?
Farmers and restaurateurs are so similar in the sense that they have really tight margins that they operate under. This pandemic has been a massive market disruption in our restaurant industry and we’re still seeing the effects of it. I don’t know if anyone knows how it’s going to end but we’ve seen restaurants that have adapted and some are adapting and doing really well and others are struggling.
In the farming world, there were major market disruptions as well that farmers adapted for to carry on with their operations and the sustainability of their family farms.
Like restaurants, our farms are family-run businesses. For farmers and restaurants alike, sustainability is about the environment, the social or human part of the business aspect, and of course the financial aspect. Businesses do need to make money so they can balance their environmental impact and look after their employees.
What can members of a community outside foodservice and farming do to help or improve the lives and works of both parties?
My foundation for what we can do always goes back to education and learning. We need to learn more. If you are interested in learning more about farmers and food, talk to farmers, food producers and be involved in that conversation. Ask questions. If you want to be connected to a farmer, reach out to me, I will connect you.
The other piece around it is listening. Listen to what is needed and that can go to our restaurant community as well. Ask restaurateurs how they can be supported in their businesses or communities.
I think it comes down to pausing and having that moment to reflect on, “what can I do, what am I willing to do?”
For me personally, when the restaurant industry was suffering in the spring and the Canada Takeout promotion started, I was like, “I can do that, I can do takeout and I’m really going to use my platform to share about that while encouraging others to do it too.”
Sometimes, it’s just giving permission to yourself or to your friends, family and communities to think about these things differently. Yes, we are in a pandemic, but you can still enjoy a restaurant meal while trusting Canadian farmers to do what they do and do what’s right.