There is a lot of buzz these days over the importance of historical buildings and preserving the heritage those edifices convey to future generations. But there is another heritage, dare we say possibly even more important, a heritage that springs from the land-based roots of our rural agricultural heritage.
That is not to overlook the important contribution of our Anishinaabe community members, indeed, too many forget that there is a long history of agriculture on Manitoulin among the Anishinaabe, one that in many ways long predates that of those who now share the traditional territories upon which non-Indigenous communities exist today. The values of honesty, humility, bravery, wisdom, truth, respect and love are foundational teachings of the Seven Grandfathers. Make no mistake, the “virtue” of hard work was also foundational to the Anishinaabe way of life on the land as well, for without it, like those early farmers who settled on Manitoulin, there would be no future generations to pass on those values.
Farming is hard work and, the odd bumper sticker not withstanding, too often a thankless vocation. It stands as a vocation because without the intense passion that word entails, few would step forward to take up the plow and combine.
Certainly, with the advent of robotic milking stations and other equipment, much of the truly backbreaking labour has been alleviated in the modern age, but long hours and heavy work remain central to the operation of a farm, along with the ever-present danger and risks associated in working with large animals.
Just as it is important to preserve important historical buildings, many of our rural values, the heritage passed on to us by past generations working on the land, also need to be nurtured and preserved for future generations.
It was those rural values that lay the foundations of Canadians developing a reputation as elite troops through conflicts such as the Boar Wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both the First and Second World Wars, on to the Korean conflict, through the plethora of peacekeeping missions of which our nation expresses such pride, and even to more recent days of serving in Afghanistan, Mali and many other international hot spots.
Those values have laid the framework for many of those who have gone on to successful careers far afield from the field, in medicine, in science and the trades, and many are those in those fields who credit their rural upbringings to their successes.
Our rural values are immensely relevant in the modern age. Those values have been fundamental and foundational to the concept of stewards of the land that are too easily forgotten or misunderstood when one’s only experience of life is the concrete forests of an urban environment.
Conservation of land and water is of huge importance to the agricultural community, witness the many productive partnerships that have taken place on Manitoulin between landowners and Manitoulin Streams in order to revitalize our Island’s watersheds, and farmers are too often painted in dark tones, misunderstood by those whose lives are far separated from the land. In these days of carbon sequestration, few stand closer to the forefront of maintaining a negative carbon footprint than a farmer.
Even though few Canadians today directly trace their roots one generation back to the farm, nearly all of us will discover a farmer within two. Farmers are literally from whom our Canadian values have sprung.
So, as the John Wesley song reminds us, “Thank a farmer.” Look it up, it is well worth the listen. Farmers are not only the custodians of the land upon which they cultivate, but the wellspring of the foundational values humanity needs to share if we are to survive in the coming years.