Tractor Project raises awareness of agriculture
Ten years ago John Varty helped cut and rake hay on his family's farm in Ontario for shipment to farmers in western Canada who were experiencing severe drought.
He's still helping farmers today, although the manner in which he is doing it is quite a bit different.
The university professor and his fiancee, Molly Daley, are towing a little house on wheels across Canada with a Massey Ferguson tractor in an attempt to publicly and visually address issues facing the agriculture industry.
"I thought as someone who has a farm background and a foot in the city I would be well positioned to start changing people's views of what is happening," said Varty during a welcome to Camrose reception at Hauser Home Hardware Building Centre Aug. 3.
Varty, who teaches agriculture trade issues, feels it is time that someone gives a face to the challenges farmers face – whether it is the high cost of feeding cattle, the low prices received from the sale of pork, or the need to build a manure remediation pit.
"People in the city need to know that these farmers, which they often accuse of being bad for the land, are doing their very best to be as good for that land as they possibly can," he said.
Varty believes the important contributions farmers make to Canadian society should be part of our daily conversations.
"It's a bad, even dangerous state of affairs for any society when the people who work most closely with the soil, producing food, have so relatively little political clout," he said in a press release. "For this to change we need Canadians to regard all farming issues as their own to some extent, and consider voting in accordance with sound agricultural policy wherever possible."
Varty is making a documentary of his trip and the comments he has received, which he hopes to air sometime after he gets home in October and has the chance to do some editing.
"I have a camera and some connections," he said. "We are sincere about it. My pledge to you is that we are going to get this thing to air and have it mean as much as we possibly can make it mean."
The trip has received generous support from major sponsors like Home Hardware, AGCO Corp, which has provided the tractor, and Kal-Tire, which has assisted with the many flat tires that have slowed travels.
"Massey has been on the family farm since 1946 and there was no question in my mind when I started that I would be calling up the people who make Massey tractors," said Varty.
Home Hardware's sponsorship reflects the commitment the company has always shown to agriculture and rural communities.
"As a business Home Hardware is a metaphor for exactly what we are all about, which is rural communities," said Varty. "I know as a business organization it is committed to remaining in small towns, and we knew we would be in a lot of small towns and be needing screws and bolts and lockwashers and fill in all the blanks. They jumped on board willingly and gladly."
Varty said the people at Kal-Tire have exemplified the company motto of providing true service.
"We contacted them in the early fall of last year specifically because the leading difficulty we were having on the road, besides bad moods, was rubber. We thought we should get a tire outfit along here for the ride. I don't know if they have been especially nice to us but I don't think so."
Varty and Daley had a chance to take in part of the Big Valley Jamboree thanks to the people at Selmac Sales, which is the Massey Ferguson dealership in Camrose.
Varty said the general reaction to their tractor trip has been one of curiosity, especially from the people in downtown Toronto. He joked that he was expecting a huge reception when, driving into Camrose, he saw thousands of campers at the Big Valley Jamboree site.
"We have been met with good will wherever we have been."
Varty said the trip has had its humorous moments, including one time when a hitchhiker turned down the chance to ride on the deck of the house. Another occurred at a gathering in Saskatchewan, where a man was pressured into making a donation by his grandson.
Crowfoot Member of Parliament Kevin Sorenson thanked Varty and Daley for drawing attention to the agricultural sector in Canada.
"In the east they are suffering with one of the driest years they have had," said Sorenson. "It's not like it was here back in 2002 but it is a very dry year, so it (agriculture) is boom or bust. In one part of the nation we can have bumper crops and in another we can have poor crops."
Sorenson said the federal government understands the importance of agriculture in rural Canada.
"Agriculture contributes $60 billion a year to the Canadian economy."
Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson said while Alberta is known to most people as an energy producing province, we need to remind ourselves that agriculture is our second largest industry and is our biggest renewable resource industry. He added that, in the next few years, Canada is going to be one of the few countries that will be a net exporter of food.
"Not all countries are fortunate enough to be able to produce enough food to feed themselves and maybe even to feed other countries."
Olson said one of the most important things that can be done in Alberta at this time is to get everyone on the same page in terms of recognizing the importance of agriculture.
"I find even in the short time I have been in the ministry that that is a conversation we in rural Alberta have with ourselves all the time. But I think we need to engage people who don't live in a rural setting to be thinking about the importance of agriculture as well. That is one of the things that I am committed to doing."
City councillor John Howard said the stories that are collected by Varty and Daley will serve to remind us about the power of the human spirit and reinforce the fact that those who are the beneficiaries of agriculture, need to listen to what the farmers have to say.
"Look around where we stand right now. I see business and I see industry. I see restaurants and hotels. I see residences of many designs and sizes. I see building products for future development. But if we look closer we will see agriculture. This parking lot won't grow produce but it grew because of agriculture. This parking lot won't grow food that we will eat but we will eat because of the commerce that takes place here. The residences don't look much like farm houses but they look to farm houses every time someone says let's eat. Tractor Canada reminds us in the City of Camrose of our growth, which has been dependent on agriculture, our president, which exists because of agriculture, and our future, which will continue because of agriculture."