Jan. 4, 2012 • Issue 15 • Volume 145 • 3
Local farmers struggle, but keep growing what they love
Damira Davletyarova The Brunswickan ‘Buy local’ is a popular phrase now. The message seems clear - support local products. But nothing is simple when it comes to local farming. While some local farms struggle to survive, others flourish. Yet even successful farms fall short of competing with the global food industry. David Coburn, 50, is a local farmer. Coburn Farms is just a 15-minute drive from Fredericton, situated in Keswick Ridge on Route 107. He is a sixth-generation farmer, and since the age of 14 he knew he was going to keep the bicentenary family business running. “I am actually quite lucky that I knew at 14,” Coburn says. “The earlier you can choose, and it doesn’t matter what you choose to do you’ve got to enjoy it.” And this is why Coburn has stayed a successful farmer despite the poor economy. His farm is equipped with modern technology and is self-sustainable. Coburn says that starting a farm like his would cost at least five million dollars. There are 25,000 chickens under one roof. They are fed corn, vitamins and minerals mixed at the farm’s mill. Chickens are fed automatically three times a day – a machine operated process. In fact, many processes at the Coburn’s farm are automated. During the winter, there are only five people working at the farm, including Coburn and his two sons. The chickens produce 24,000 eggs daily that are sold at supermarkets throughout New Brunswick and Nova Scotia under different labels. Coburn uses chicken waste to fertilize soil for growing apples during the summer. Then, collected apples are pressed into apple cider and sold year-round at local farmers markets. This Christmas, Coburn plans
David Coburn with a host of chickens. Damira Davletyarova / The Brunswickan to sell 3,000 litres of apple cider at the Boyce Farmers Market alone. It’s three times more than what he sells on a usual weekend - as families across the province put together a holiday table. While Coburn stays successful at home, he says it’s difficult to compete with the global food industry. Every time Coburn goes to the grocery store, he sees that most produce comes from out of province. “There has to be a balance. We should be able to feed ourselves. And
I am scared we are giving up that ability,” Coburn says. Even though the provincial government helped Coburn to rebuild his apple cider barn that burned down at the end of 2010, the farmer says he doesn’t get much support from the cash-strapped government. “And that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Coburn says. “You then endup taking your farm in the direction the government wants you to go, but that might not be the right answer or the right direction,” Coburn said.
Jenn Thomas and some sugar snap peas. Damira Davletyarova / The Brunswickan
But for young farmer Jenn Thomas, 30, getting any support from the government is crucial. For eight years Thomas has been helping her husband and in-laws to maintain a small organic vegetable farm called Our Garden in Taymouth, New Brunswick on the banks of the Nashwaak River. During the off-season, Thomas has been working at the local organic store Aura to learn more about organic food and bring additional income into the family. She just quit her job to become a full-time farmer as the family decided to build a small greenhouse where they can grow sprouts and shoots during the winter. Organic farming is hard and labour-intensive, Thomas says. In order to receive a certified organic status, the farmer has to meet multiple strict guidelines that control the whole food production process. “The base of organic farming is building your soil with healthy matters and doing crop rotation so you are building the soil all the time and you are not overtaxing one part,” Thomas says. Farming organically is also expensive. Small farms don’t bring enough money in to build savings. Thomas says the family is lucky if they break even at the end of the season. “This is a very small farm, but I would say that’s pretty common. People are having hard times. And this is why a lot of people don’t get into farming. Or they get into farming, but then have to get out because they can’t support their
families,” Thomas says. “I guess the people I know, most of them in it [organic farming] believe in it so passionately.” The government doesn’t have to come up with exotic programs to support small farmers, Thomas says. First, the government has to start buying local itself, which will automatically increase demand of local food supply. Yet the local government, institutions and businesses keep buying from corporate food companies. For example, both the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University have contracts with Sysco - a global food distributor. Community also plays a part. Buying local organic groceries is a little expensive, Thomas says. Yet paying less is spending more from tax money to pay for health care and environmental issues that increasingly arise due to toxins in mass-produced food and pollution of the water and air. “We have to make deeper cultural and policy changes so that it’s not a matter of fad, it’s just the matter of how it is. We need to produce locally because that’s what makes sense. We need farmers because that’s what makes sense,” Thomas says. Even though Coburn Farm and Our Garden in Taymouth are different in size and production, both farmers Coburn and Thomas are concerned how long they would be able to do what they love amid the global food industry that has overtaken local markets.