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Food and drink: This land is our land

Until there’s a National Farmers’ Day, hug a farmer today

If last Thursday was all about the blue and white for St. Jean Baptiste Day, this one is reserved for the red and white, and I can't think of a better day than Canada Day to celebrate those who work the land to produce our food.

That is until we start a National Farmers' Day, say about the last Friday in September, where everyone gets the day off except farmers, of course, who would be too busy working, and we all buy at least one thing from a local farm gate or farmers' market, or at least one food item made or raised or grown in our respective provinces. In B.C., that would be ridiculously simple.

So while you're out there celebrating amongst the red and white painted faces, eating the red-and-white-iced cakes with the maple leaves and fluttering those little paper red and white flags, take a minute and think about all those from coast to coast to coast who grow the wheat and rye and potatoes and lettuce and raise the pigs and chickens and cows that we're all gnoshing down day after day, and what we would do, or rather wouldn't do, without them.

Happy Canada Day! Hug a farmer, buy Canadian - and in the between time, here's a Canada Day farmers' index to nudge you along.

Number of family farms in Canada in 1951: 600,000

Number of family farms in Canada today: 230,000

Average age of farmers in Canada today: 55

Ratio of off-farm income for Canadian family farms in 1990 and 1999, respectively: 68 per cent and 73 per cent

Percentage of off-farm income for medium-sized, business-focused family farms in Canada in 1999: 80 per cent

Amount of food Vancouver Island farmers used to supply to residents on the island in the 1960s vs. amount supplied locally today: 85 per cent vs. 10 per cent

Amount of chicken eaten on Vancouver Island supplied by farmers on Vancouver Island: 20 per cent

Position of agriculture in Vancouver Island's economy in the 1920s and forestry, respectively: 1st and 2nd

Year the term "locavore" was coined in San Francisco: 2005

Year it was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionary: 2007

Year that Frederique and Sinclair Philip started what became Sooke Harbour House, known for its local/regional cuisine: 1979

Years using local cuisine was popularized in Toronto by chefs Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander: Early 1980s

Year that Jamie Kennedy founded Knives and Forks, which pioneered farm-to-table practices in Canada and started Feast of Fields: 1989

Year that Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon did their year-long 100-mile diet: 2005

Years when the crisis hit small Canadian farmers when farms that expanded in the '70s couldn't make their payments: Early 1980s

Year McCain Foods started as McCain Produce, a seed potato export company in New Brunswick: 1909

Year McCain Foods opened its first French fry plant, with 30 employees: 1957

Number of plants and employees McCain has today: 20,000 employees working in 53 plants in Canada, the US, Mexico, South Africa, India, China and South America

Number of acres planted for Brussels sprouts in New Brunswick in the 1950s to mid-1980s: 600

Year McCain Foods closed its Brussels sprouts processing plant in New Brunswick: 1986

Years that Acadians began farming in southeastern New Brunswick after being expelled by the British from Nova Scotia: 1680s

Number of kilograms of potatoes Prince Edward Island farmers grew in 2008-09: 907 million

Year that Pemberton became the first commercial seed potato area in the world to grow virus-free seed potatoes: 1967

Number of Mennonites who migrated to Manitoba in 1873-84: 8,000

Top skill that the Canadian government advertised as wanting in immigrants from Europe at the time: Farming skills

One of the top achievements of Mennonite farmers in southern Manitoba: Establishment of the sunflower industry

Ratio of innkeepers to residents in Quebec City in 1755: 1 to 90

Years that cheese factories in Ontario began purchasing supplies from surrounding farms: 1860s

Number of factories in Ontario making cheddar cheese for export in 1870: 322

Number of cheese processors in Canada and in Quebec today, respectively: 183 and 110

Percentage of England's cheese Canada was producing in 1877: 60 per cent

Percentage of that cheese which came from Quebec: 30 per cent

Year that B.C.'s agricultural land reserve was finalized: 1972

Number of acres of farmland in B.C.'s ALR: 12 million

Number of acres formerly in the ALR in the city of Richmond alone that have been removed for housing, commercial and industrial developments: 1,600

Number of farmers' markets in Sea to Sky Country: four

Number of farmers' markets in Vancouver: five

Amount of water needed to raise 1 kg of grain-fed industrially ranched beef: 100,000 litres

Amount of water needed to raise 1 kg of industrially raised broiler chicken: 3,500 litres

Amount of groundwater North American agriculture uses annually that is more than is replenished: 25 per cent

Rate that topsoil is being depleted by industrial farming: 18 times faster than it's being replaced


Sources: Cornell University Science News; Canadian Dairy information Centre; Vista on the Agri-Food Industry and the Farm Community, Feb. 2003; Locavore: From Farmers' Fields to Rooftop Gardens - How Canadians are Changing the Way we Eat , by Sarah Elton; Domestic Life in 19 th Century Canada by Una Abrahamson;


Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who dedicates this column to Marlene "The Tax Lady, Menno and Modern Art Lover" Siemens.