Canadian Agriculture Day encourages Albertans to learn about where their food comes from

Matt Sawye, right, stands with his family on their farm outside Acme. Supplied

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As Alberta farms deal with one of the worst growing seasons in recent history, family farmers opened their doors to the curious to help dispel agriculture misconceptions.

Matt Sawyer, a fourth-generation farmer, grows a multitude of crops ranging from canola and hay to wheat and malt barley, alongside his family on their land near Acme, in south-central Alberta. He said his 4,200-acre farm just went through the worst growing season in almost three decades.

“This year, of course, top-of-the-cake as far as the worst harvest that we’ve ever experienced, that I’ve ever personally experienced,” said Sawyer.

The final provincial crop report of 2019 showed 89.6 per cent of all crops were harvested as of Dec. 3. That’s close to a five-per-cent drop from the final 2018 numbers, which finished at 94.7 per cent of all crops harvested as of Oct. 30, 2018. In 2017, that number was 98.6 per cent.

After 40 long days of farming from 8 a.m. to midnight alongside his three children, wife, parents and two hired hands, Sawyer said he was able to combine the entirety of his harvest, however not a single bushel was dry.

But, while he combined wet bushel after bushel, he also helped educate those who wanted to learn where their food is coming from.

“As the urban centres get larger there is that disconnect and people don’t really remember or know where their food comes from and there’s a lot of myths and misconceptions that go along with it,” said Sawyer.

Latest numbers from Statistics Canada shows while Sawyer’s farm is a family affair, it is actually one of the larger operations helping to feed the country. There are 4,035 farms over 2,880 acres in Alberta, according to a 2016 census, and over 14,000 farms under 200 acres.

To help close that disconnect, Sawyer said he invited different groups of interested people to come by his farm to see how three generations work together, farming sustainably and to answer questions about why different sprays are used and how they get the food from farm to table.

On top of face-to-face conversations, he also took part in an online video series called “Real Farm Lives” where he and his family answered questions about farm and food safety and illustrated difficulties on the farm that producers can’t control. Those online stories are now being featured as part of Canada Agriculture Day as producers highlight their work across a number of online platforms.

Tuesday marked the fourth annual Canada Agriculture Day, held by the organization Agriculture More Than Ever, a day to recognize the work of Canadian producers and the challenges they continue to face.

Among the issues producers say they face that are out of their control are the carbon tax, trade with China and anti-GMO campaigns. Sawyer said if the public and policy-makers sit down and learn from farmers, there can be a greater understanding of how he and other producers are being adversely affected.

“Talking to your MPs, your MLAs and talking about what agriculture does for our economy,” said Sawyer. “We just can’t absorb any more poor policy and have any more doors shut in our face.”