Our Canadian food system is in trouble. It was in trouble even before COVID-19 — but it took a pandemic to draw our attention to how that affects us. The people who grow our food — our farmers — struggle to make a living. In any given year, half to two-thirds need second jobs and many more rely on income from their spouses to get by. In 2014, the average farm brought in about $16,000 after expenses were paid — and that was the highest in over a decade.
That’s not enough to live on.
City-dwellers have high ideals for our food. We want it to be local and organic, hormone-free and sustainably grown. We also want it to be cheap. And, we want to eat things that don’t grow here, and when they aren’t in season. We want tomatoes in February and mangoes all the time.
And therein lies the problem. The way we spend our food dollars asks farmers to grow the cheapest food, not the best. It asks them to sell their crops internationally as commodities, while we buy them back as processed foods. We export wheat and import pasta because it’s cheapest that way.
These are lessons that COVID-19 has taught us. If we are going to learn from COVID-19, we need to re-shape our food system so farmers have the resources they need to grow better food. There needs to be enough money in the system to pay farmers, to maintain a healthy environment on our farmland, and to ensure that our farmers grow enough to eat when borders close and supply chains falter.
The Hands that Feed Us is a documentary to build that system. Our mission is to show the food system we have, find out why our farmers do so poorly in it, and change it so they can afford to grow the food we want.