Before The Hands that Feed Us was a campaign, it was a short, 12 minute documentary featuring Arzeena Hamir and her family on their organic produce farm in Comox, B.C.
The farm works because it’s a family and a community, where love and commitment outweigh the financial rewards. Everyone helps out on the farm: Arzeena plans crops, her husband builds and maintains the infrastructure, her father-in-law helped build the farm’s cooler and rebuilt the tractors. Even her kids do the cooking. And the food from the farm is sold though a community co-op, cutting the time needed to bring the food to market to one quarter of what it would be without outside help.
Despite all the outside help they get, the farm barely produced enough to support one person, and Arzeena’s husband still has to work off-farm. In Arzeena’s own words: “Financially, we would have been better off without the farm … the farm gives us so much more than just finances.”
Arzeena’s attitude is typical of almost every small farmer I’ve talked to. Sure, it would be nice if they earned a bit more from their farm, but they get by, and, somehow, the lifestyle makes it all worthwhile. The farming “lifestyle” seems to be a bit of a touchstone for farmers. Farming may be difficult, but at least it lets the farmers live a good life in close contact with nature!
Almost every farmer I’ve met loves what they do. Given how little money farmers make, maybe that’s because the farmers who love it are the only ones left on the land. I don’t believe farmers are being ironic when they extol the virtues of the farming life. But, I also don’t believe farmers should grow the food that we eat for love alone.
And that is where The Hands that Feed Us started. It started because I believe that farmers should be able to live the farming lifestyle and make a living doing it.
Arzeena Hamir isn’t just any old farmer. She is an experienced agrologist, she is a past board member of the COABC (BC’s organic certification body), she teaches soil science and helped start the Richmond Farm School at Kwantlen University. If any farmer should be making a good living, it is Arzeena. But she struggles as much as any other farmer.
The short documentary premiered at the World Community Film Festival in February 2018. It is currently playing the festival circuit, which means it cannot be showed publicly here.
But … if you ask very nicely, I might send you a private link so you can see the film for yourself…