It’s not everyday that you see a tractor parked in downtown Revelstoke, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that John Varty and Molley Daley’s tractor got lots of attention when it was parked outside Style Trend on First Street West on Wednesday.
Varty, a university professor in agriculture and environmental history, and Daley have spent the past seven months chugging across Canada in their tractor trying to bring attention to farming issues in Canada in a project they simply call Tractor.
The goal, as Varty put it, is to get people thinking about issues facing farmers in Canada. The two are producing a documentary film about the state and condition of farming in Canada. Throughout their journey they have interview farmers, politicians, food activists, food company executives and more.
Just before arriving in Revelstoke they attracted some unwanted attention when someone complained to the RCMP about their slow-moving vehicle. After some investigation, it was determined that only licensed farmers are allowed to drive a tractor on the highway in B.C.
As a result, Varty and Daley had to spend two days at the Albert Canyon Hot Springs waiting for a special operating permit from ICBC.
Finally in Revelstoke they stopped at the River City Pub for lunch, where I met them on the patio.
“I want to take what I do in the academic world and make it available to a bigger audience,” Varty told me. He wants to tell the stories of struggling farmers – the vast majority of whom have to take on a second job to make ends meet, he said.
“There’s a whole host of things that happen everyday on a farm that people in cities take for granted,” he said. “I want to start a national conversation that connects city people and country people more than has been done so far.”
The documentary they are producing was intended to do that, but the tractor tour has also been raising awareness – so far they’ve been CBC, CTV, Global, Radio Canada, the Globe and Mail, Times of India, Hamilton Spectator and many more print, radio, web and television publications.
“If the coverage so far is any indication, then we’re really happy,” said Varty.
This being Revelstoke, I asked him his thoughts on food security, which is a major focus of the North Columbia Environmental Society.
While he said food security concerns were a good thing, he noted that a wheat farmer on the prairies (for example) might rely on exports for his income and that the problems are much broader than that.
One of the biggest problems facing independent farmers is that everyone from the chemical companies to grocers are making money, but they aren’t.
He did say the attention being paid to food issues is a positive. “There is an existing enthusiasm and interest and energy around food issues,” he said. “If I accomplish anything, the thing that would make me most proud is if I bridge the gap between conventional farmer and those who are out there eating.”
Going back to food security, he said people focused on that issue should realize that if a Prairie farmer fails, they will be bought out by a big agricultural company. By supporting them and enabling them to thrive, you can then try to get them to go organic.
Varty’s ultimate goal is to have agricultural issues enter the national conversation so that someone in Toronto might think of the Prairie farmer when casting their vote.
“What’s going to fix it is we have to engender a culture where it’s cool to vote on agricultural issues,” he said.
Even if all you eat are frozen fish sticks and french fries, you should still think about food issues, Varty said.
“We need to get to a place where even if you don’t care about food, you should still think about agricultural issues.”
Daley is an example of someone who has come around to thinking about food issues. Born and raised in New York City, the issue wasn’t on her radar until recently. “The biggest thing (I’ve learned) is there is a large stereotype of the hayseed farmer but the people I’ve met are very well versed on international trade and how to repair a combine.”