And, they’re right!
It’s great advice! In fact, it’s possibly the single most-important healthy eating measure you can take as part of an overall approach to well-being that also includes breathing fresh air and addressing exercise, stress, sleep and other habits. Eating more plants is the theme of the shiny new Canada’s Food Guide released in January 2019 as a refresh to the one of 12 years prior. (Note that every previous food guide has also included eating vegetables, fruit and grains.) Additionally, eating more plants is considered a critical strategy for world food sustainability.
So where do we get all these healthy plants?
Of the 30 million folks to feed in Canada and the 300 billion worldwide, thank goodness for farmers who grow food. While over half of Canadians worked on farms 100 years ago, today less than two per cent of Canadians do. Backyard and balcony gardens are valuable for all sorts of reasons from teaching kids where food comes from to enjoying the special taste of homegrown food. However, without large-scale farming we wouldn’t even come close to feeding our own country or being able to help nourish the rest of the world.
If you’ve never had a chance to do so, it is extremely worthwhile to visit a farm and talk with farmers to understand the passion they have for the land, the sustainability of the environment and the food they grow to feed their families and share.
Farms by province
In Canada 97 per cent of farms are family-owned. Of the close to 2.5 billion acres of land in Canada, only about 6.5 per cent is farmed. Towns, cities, industrial areas and land not suitable for farming for being rocky or in the wrong climate make up the rest. Here are some other nifty facts about Canadian farms by province from The Real Dirt on Farming:
- Saskatchewan is the largest producer of crops such as wheat, lentils and canola
- Manitoba has the highest proportion of young farmers
- British Columbia has the largest number of small farms
- Ontario produces more soybeans than any other province, and is responsible for two-thirds of Canada’s greenhouse vegetable production
- Quebec leads the country in dairy, maple syrup, pork, nut, fruit and berry production
- Nova Scotia grows more apples than any other province
- Newfoundland and Labrador market their products directly to consumers to a greater extent than anywhere else in the country
- Alberta has the most beef cattle
- Oats are the most common field crop in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, excluding hay and alfalfa
- Forty per cent of the land in PEI is used for farming. PEI and New Brunswick grow a lot of potatoes
Canadian farmers are on trend
Our farmers grow a diverse range of food and are deeply committed to doing so with safe, sustainable and state of the art methods. Whether the oats in your granola, the hemp hearts blended into your smoothie, the lentils in a veggie burger or the juicy strawberries enjoyed on summer days, the availability of the plants we require for good health is not only a function of the sun and rain. The planning, equipment, supplies and people all factor into the success of the farm as do government-approved technologies from scientific advances such as pesticides and biotechnology. Each tool plays a vital role in the production and harvesting of crops, whether it’s equipment like a round bale carrier or government initiatives.
Understanding where food comes from and the high standards farmers must meet to remain in business is important. Without ever being at a farm, or several, and without ever experiencing the challenges of growing food on a large scale, it is a very dangerous thing to spread inaccurate anti-farming information. With less than two per cent of people growing our food, do we want to put them out of business?
Just like many non-food businesses in our country, farmers run diversified operations in which they don’t only grow one crop. It is common for farmers to grow many crops (a mixed grain operation), raise chicken for eggs and perhaps also raise cattle or other animals.
Let’s support those who grow our food
I grew up in an agricultural province – Saskatchewan. My parents grew up on prairie farms. As a dietitian in the business of food communications, I’ve spent three decades talking with consumers about food and health. Interestingly, the loudest and harshest criticism I’ve heard about farming has always come from miles away from any farm. I’ve visited many farms and food production facilities. I am extremely confident that the food supply in Canada is not only safe, but first class. The quality of the food and farming methods used in Canada are envied around the world.
Farming is also an industry that is quick to adapt to modern technology. For example, I was recently doing some research into greenhouses when I discovered that arable farmers are now able to use a special type of light deprivation greenhouse tarp to enhance their growing cycles. Ultimately, these innovative tarps can be used to create ideal growing conditions for either year-round growing or, alternatively, they can even be used to trick plants into thinking it is autumn early and therefore extending the flowering processes for a more extended period. How good is that? When commercial greenhouses or your own personal ones are under construction, it is important that you think about all of the features, especially technological advancements, that you can incorporate into your space to ensure that your greenhouse excels to its full potential. This just goes to show that industrial developments such as heat-shrink plastic are being used by farming communities in new and exciting ways.
I encourage supporting farmers rather than spreading dangerously inaccurate information that can put our food supply at risk. Just a few of the many ways to show support:
- From cranberries and barley to chickpeas and eggs, visit as many Canadian farms as you can to understand where the food you feed your family comes from and the passion and commitment of the people who grow it. Also enjoy the fantastic access we have to many other fruits and vegetables due to our ability to import them from countries with climates suitable to growing them at different times of the year.
- Before saying the soil is depleted and that’s why you need to rely on multiple vitamins, know that food will not grow if there are no nutrients in the soil.
- When dining out, know that hormones are not used in ANY egg farming in Canada. Be assured that every Canadian restaurant serving eggs in any form is using hormone-free eggs.
- Before making statements about biotechnology being dangerous, take time to learn about the safe and sustainable advances it has created. Know the whole story.
- Know that every plant on earth is made of natural chemicals. An apple, for example, contains over 300 different chemicals, including naturally-occurring acetone and formaldehyde. Yes, still eat apples. Knowing the difference between risk and hazard is VERY important. Correlation is not the same as causation.
- Know that pesticides are extensively tested and regulated, as much as or even more than prescription drugs. Both are chemicals that have jobs to do. Both come with benefits and risks. Thirty three per cent of the global population are small farmers whose livelihoods depend on their own farms. One bad harvest or crop destruction and they would be ruined.
- Understand that the benefits of eating that plant-based diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains FAR outweigh the risks from pesticides used to grow them
- In your quest to eat more plants and feed your family nutritiously, take time to acknowledge those who made those nourishing foods readily available for us to eat, grow on and thrive from.
- Cook at home as often as you can and feature in-season Canadian-grown food when possible. For some terrific recipes to try in each season of the year, check out From Farm to Food , a wonderful recipe project I had the pleasure of teaming with other Canadian foodie dietitians to create in partnership with CropLife.ca.