Farmers on the front lines of food sovereignty share their visions

National Farmers Union members propose “a radical transformation of food systems”

The publication of Frontline Farmers: How the National Farmers Union Resists Agribusiness and Creates Our New Food Future, edited by Annette Aurélie Desmarais, will mark the National Farmers Union’s 50th-anniversary celebration in November 2019.

Desmarais explains that the National Farmers Union (NFU) has been at the forefront of important issues affecting agriculture and food in Canada since its formation in 1969.

“The NFU is the only national, direct membership farm organization that was recognized by an Act of Parliament outlining its purpose as ‘Strong Communities. Sound Policies. Sustainable Farms.’

“NFU members share the goal of working together to protect people’s interests against the increasing corporate control of the Canadian food system,” she continues. “It seeks to keep family farms as the key food production unit in Canada, to promote sustainable farming practices, women’s equality in policy development, fair food prices, youth involvement, and building solidarity with family farmers around the world.”

Frontline Farmers recounts the stories of some of the NFU’s most significant struggles over time, told by NFU members in their own voices.

Desmarais, a former grain farmer in Saskatchewan and now the Canada Research Chair in Human Rights, Social Justice, and Food Sovereignty at the University of Manitoba, considers these members to be the real protagonists.

“The various authors are all activists and they are also associate members of the NFU,” she says. “Each chapter focuses on a particular struggle, discusses what was at stake, and what actions the NFU took. Importantly, it also explains why this matters not only for farmers but for all Canadians.”

The book begins with an “Introduction to the Protagonists,” listing the 45 members who are interviewed throughout. Their biographies reveal the rich diversity and long-time service that each individual has made their life’s work within the context of the NFU.

Annette Aurélie Desmarais
Annette Aurélie Desmarais

To name but a few, they include Terry Boehm, an organic and conventional grain farmer in Saskatchewan, who refuses to grow genetically modified crops on his 4000-acre farm; Diane and Peter Dowling, who run Doublejay Farms, an organic beef operation on Howe Island in Ontario – Dianne is deeply engaged in the Save Our Prison Farms committee; Ken Laing of Ontario who provides workshops on the care and handling of draft horses to help reduce fossil-fuel dependency; and Pat Mooney, who has received numerous awards for his defence of plant genetic resources and the farmers’ right to control their seed. All of these and more speak passionately about the ventures that fuel NFU members.

Desmarais anticipates a wide readership for Frontline Farmers since the issues it describes are central to the health and well-being of everyone.

“Food sovereignty is changing the way we think about agriculture and food. It is changing the way that we think about our relationship to the environment and one another. It is about a radical transformation of food systems,” she says.

“If you want to get to know those who produce your food, if you want to better understand what the progressive farm movement has done and why this matters to farmers and consumers and the planet, if you want to learn more about how to build sustainable food systems, read this book!”