Farm-to-fork divide is a yawning gulf, federal research shows
Yet recently released government research reveals something farmers have long warned of: most Canadians have no idea where their food comes from, how its made or how important it is to their own economic fortunes.
“Findings from this series of focus groups clearly indicate a relatively low level of awareness, particularly among urban dwellers, of the current state of the [agriculture] sector and its contributions to provincial, regional and the national economy,” the report reads.
Similar findings were reported in rural centres, the report added. While rural residents noted a higher familiarity with agriculture in general, researchers found “they nonetheless felt they too were not as knowledgeable of the larger national picture and outlook.”
The information was collected for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada last December via 18 focus groups held in eight communities across Canada: Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, New Liskeard, Ont., Montmagny, Que. and Selkirk, MB.
Each meeting lasted just over two hours and was made up of eight to 11 participants with men and women over 18 years old.
Few of those polled identified the agriculture sector as a “key economic driver.” That, despite the fact Canada’s agriculture sector contributes $100 billion to the national economy annually and is tied to one in eight jobs in this country, a statistic which “surprised” many focus group members, the report said.
In fact, most participants, the report reads, “felt Canada’s agricultural sector could be considered ‘relatively low-tech’ or not as innovative” as the energy sector, the auto sector or the service sector.
Participants, the report argues, are stuck in the past with “romanticized” or “idealistic” view of agriculture. An image researchers said, more in tune with what farming used to look like “in the last century” than with today’s modern farm.
Only a handful of those surveyed had visited a working farm.
The result is a major disconnect from an industry expected to dominate the future Canadian trade agenda.
Canada is currently the fifth largest exporter of agricultural goods, a fact unfamiliar to most participants. While most could name wheat as a major export, few were able to list other Canadian exports.
In fact, pollsters were routinely told Canada was a net importer of food thanks to the wide variety of imported fruits and vegetables found in Canadian grocery stores.
“I feel like agriculture is silent in Canada,” one participant noted. Despite widespread government advertizing campaigns attempting to reconnect Canadians with the farm, for everyday folks food, they said, comes from the grocery stores.
The unfamiliarity with the farming world also means few participants were aware of major policy debates including ones on supply management or the pending Canada-European Trade Agreement.
While most participants had heard of marketing boards, researchers found few were familiar with the workings of supply management with many participants posing questions about how quotas were set.
Debate on the issue reportedly generated “mixed responses” with participants noting the system likely benefited producers by “offering greater income security.” However, many raised concerns about the impact supply management had on consumer choices, restricted competition and higher prices.
As for the European trade deal, pollsters found most participants hadn’t heard of it.
While some had heard rumblings of a “perceived negative impact on fine cheese producers in Quebec,” along with possible gains for beef, the report found “they had no specific knowledge of the terms of the agreement or how it might benefit the Canadian agriculture industry.”