Farming and volunteering – the rising cost of food from a farming volunteer

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To date we’ve shared some of the thoughts from House of Friendship, the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, and Herrle’s Country Market around effects of rising food prices. But as we promised in our introductory post, we’ll share some of the thoughts from Dennis: a farmer, and a current volunteer with our program and the House of Friendship Board of Directors. Originally I was going to introduce Dennis in a volunteer spotlight; however after talking with him and reading newspaper articles about rising food prices, Matt and I agreed it would be better to shine attention on him by letting him weigh in our discussion about rising food prices. So let’s get started: 

Dennis packing a hamper.

Melissa: How did you get involved with the Emergency Food Program?

Dennis: A few years back I became a representative from my church on the Board of Directors. From there I was asked to select a program of interest, which for me was Community Services. I’m a food producer so it was natural that I was interested in the food assistance aspect of House of Friendship. Since I’ve been on this committee we’ve done a few tours to gain a better understanding of the daily operations. I’ve always thought that this program does great work and I decided once I began slowing down my involvement in farming that I’d offer to volunteer. A few years ago I sold my dairy cows and started volunteering.

Melissa:
Why do you think supporting places like House of Friendship (or the Food Bank of Waterloo Region) is important to this region?

Dennis: As a farmer it’s simply unacceptable that people face a situation where they don’t have enough food. I can’t imagine what life would be like to not have enough to eat. I’ve always grown up on a farm, so food was always available. However I also know how hard it can be to grow food enough to make a profit – meaning that you don’t always have enough to share with others. Since I haven’t always been in a position to share the products that I grow, I’ve chosen to do things like volunteering. It’s one way to make a difference against the bigger issues like hunger. Because no matter how affluent a community is, there are always a percentage of people who don’t share in this and need a helping hand. That’s why people need to find the way that works for them to support agencies like House of Friendship because they have effective ways to help people who are facing various issues that mean needing food assistance. It’s one step against the bigger causes and a way to be involved to learn how to work towards a better future.

Melissa: How did you come to farming?

Dennis: I grew up on a farm and was expected at an early age to be part of the workforce. There is always work to do on a farm so you can learn a variety of skills and develop an appreciation for the bigger picture, which is part of the reason I began operating my own farm. It’s a great feeling to see how all the small jobs like picking rocks out of the field make a significant impact on the yield at the end of the season. Farming teaches you how to prioritize since you always need to try to plan ahead and be on top of things. It’s been an interesting occupation that is always teaching me new things.

Melissa: Based on your experience as a farmer, what do you feel are the some of the main drivers or factors raising food prices?

Dennis: Definitely the rising costs of fuels. Farming requires various fertilizers that are produced from natural gas. Meaning that as those prices continue to rise so do our input costs, which means that our selling costs need to rise to cover all of the bills on our end.

Fuel costs also tie in to the ethanol production debate. Corn is used to produce ethanol, which is used in the production of gasoline fuels. I won’t tell you which side of the fence I’m on but this is an interesting piece that also plays a role in food prices. A few years back approximately 30 percent of dry corn production was shifted into ethanol production after farmers were almost pushed to create new markets for their crops when buying prices dropped. But then you get into the idea of greenhouse gas emissions and this really becomes a complicated issue. So I won’t go into a lot of depth with it – it’s just part of the supply and demand chain. All the dry corn that was previously utilized in animal feed and various other products are now in a shortage, which affects the overall price.

Let’s not forget the impact that weather events have on food prices. Often when there are droughts or floods farmers cannot plan crops in time, if at all, or the yield may not be as strong as the growing season was not ideal. This means that there are fewer crops available, which raises the price. It’s the supply and demand relationship again. For example, right now approximately half of the Ontario sweet corn likely hasn’t been planted yet because it’s been so wet out, when it’s normally done now. So for grocery stores to keep this product available to consumers, we’ll have to import more foreign grown foods instead. In the end it means that all of us will pay more for sweet corn in the stores because they’ve got to factor in the transportation costs to get it to the stores. But as transportation and fuel costs continue to rise, I wouldn’t be surprised if it almost becomes too expensive to fly or truck in many of these foreign grown products.

Another factor is that as the world’s population continues to grow, we have fewer acres to grow food on. However the idea of intensive agriculture is another debate and factors that influence food prices. Without the uses of some pesticides our food production would be slower, meaning that prices would have risen at a much faster pace many years ago. Although there are obviously pros and cons to each side of this factor too, which I won’t go into.

Essentially the list of factors that influence food prices is nearly endless. Food pricing is a very complex issue in the sense that there are numerous factors that influence each other to affect the overall cost. Produce is an open market in the sense that it doesn’t have supply management production compared to some other food items. That’s why these products often fluctuate at a more unpredictable rate than other products. Other products such as milk and eggs are run on a cost production formula, which produce doesn’t have. Again this is just another complicated piece of the food prices pie.

Melissa: Any final thoughts?

Dennis: In an ideal world we’d all be able to go to the supermarket and get a nice healthy and affordable food basket. Canada is such a wealthy nation that it seems unreal that some of us are without food at any time. However like many other nations we direct our financial resources in other directions that we feel are more important in the end.

But many people just don’t realize how close we are to hunger. Farmers continue to plant crops and work to find the most efficient processes to produce the highest yield, but all it takes is one big natural disaster like a hail storm to set things back. Look  at Russia example, last year they were one of the top exporters for food; but after major flooding they began importing food for the first time in a long time. North America, like them, may have the resources to sustain ourselves but it’s not something we can keep up forever.

***

Dennis you have an incredible amount of knowledge and I did my best to share you’re wise perspective with everyone. I hope you’ve all enjoyed our series on rising food prices. Feel free to add your comments and discuss any other factors you believe are at play to our rising food prices.

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One Response to “Farming and volunteering – the rising cost of food from a farming volunteer”

  1. Global conversation about food « Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] some of the previous posts that we did on rising food prices back in May and June – but click here if you missed […]

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