There was a time in our history when we were simply thankful for food. As a pioneer in this country, if you had your belly full you were pretty well satisfied and likely didn’t have a care over what kind of food you had eaten or where it came from. Back then, we were much closer to the source of our sustenance; more tightly connected to farming. Even as late as the 1960’s most people were only a generation or two away from being farmers, and even those who lived in towns and cities grew much of their own food in family gardens. Poultry, and even the occasional goat were welcome members of the urban food production network. And the food that arrived in our stores came from farms that we were all familiar with – those small mixed farms that raised all kinds of animals and grew not only crops, but families! These were the farms that were the “backbone of America”, the foundation of rural culture and values on which North American society was founded. These were Grampa’s and Uncle Ted’s farm. You could send your kids out to work on them for a few weeks in the summer, and see them come back tanned and muscular, with a new sense of self esteem at having learned about hard work and honest living. There was nothing questionable about agriculture. The integrity of farmers and their methods was unquestionable, so who would question the food?
Enter the modern era. The industrialization of farming. Chemistry and biotechnology applied to growing food. Labour saving machines, mass production of livestock in total confinement systems, growth promoting drugs, “improved” genetics that fast-track production and lower costs. Ah yes… lower costs. The transformation of the farm was driven by the persistent, pre-eminent motive of making food abundant and inexpensive. Government policy, university research, and the unforgiving discipline of market forces all conspired against the farmer of old and imposed on him the prime directive; produce more for less. And boy has the farmer responded! We have done a great job, in half a century, taking the people-intensive way of life that farming used to be, and shifting to a technology intensive, globalized agri-business. Canadians now spend less of their disposable income on food than anyone in history, anywhere in the world. That must be acknowledged for what it is – a remarkable accomplishment. But there have been some casualties along the way.
The way we farm has become… let’s say… questionable. We’re not so sure that we can trust it. Knowing more about modern farming is not necessarily good for your appetite. Food is not just food anymore and eating whatever you feel like eating in today’s world can be very bad for your health. Nutrition related illnesses threaten to swamp the health care system and could even threaten our entire fiscal sustainability as we use more and more tax dollars treating disease. There is something wrong, badly wrong with the food system in wealthy nations like Canada, and a growing number of people are looking for answers. There are no simple fixes, since the problem is complicated. It is not only the way we farm, but how the food is processed and where and how and in what quantities we choose to eat it. Organic Food? Local Food? Vegetarian? Grow your own? Some of these will be great for people who take the time to be better informed and make decisions to support an alternative, but the mainstream industrial agriculture system coupled with a fast food/cheap food culture moves on like a steam roller, supplying the vast majority of people with questionable nourishment, and making them – to the detriment of all – less thankful.
The people who purchase our products fall into that minority who think more, know more and care more about what they eat, and how the animals and land are cared for in the production of that food. It is a constant source of affirmation for us that you, our customers express such appreciation for the way we farm and the food that we deliver. And that attitude of gratefulness is a blessing going both ways.
We are approaching that annual celebration which was first observed by early settlers whose lives were simpler, whose work was overwhelming, and whose luxuries and leisure times were few. Yet they paused to give thanks. We at Zettel Family Farms want to express our sincere thanks to you for supporting our humble efforts. As we pray in thanksgiving before diving into the turkey, we will remember you.