Behind The Lines - May 2009

The growing presence of women in agriculture in Ontario is the subject of this month’s cover story by staff writer Mary Baxter. The story is mostly about the rise in the number of women who are listed statistically as the operators of a farm.

Their numbers are rising, albeit slowly, at the same time as the number of farm operations reported, in general, is falling. The trend is seen in the United States as well, and less so across Canada.

The rising role of women as decision-makers has spread to farm organizations as well. Coincidentally, after this article was written, that growing role also showed itself at Ontario Pork with the election of Wilma Jeffray as chair and Mary-Ann Hendrikx as vice-chair at the board’s inaugural meeting in early April. It’s a situation that is certainly unprecedented in Ontario’s major farm commodity organizations and likely elsewhere in Canada as well.

Prior to the most recent elections, six of 14 Ontario Pork directors were women, more than many other farm organizations. How that came to be is an interesting story in itself. Hendrikx explains that, in 1995, Ontario Pork’s bylaws were changed to allow two votes per enterprise for electing county councillors.

“It was just seen as a more inclusive way to get more participation,” she explains. The bylaw change allowed not only spouses but farm staff to have a role.

With so many farms functioning as a husband and wife partnership, the stage was set for a change in the gender makeup. In the case of Hendrikx, she says she became involved as a secretary-treasurer of her district and then moved up.

In the letters section, beginning on page 6, there is reaction to our April cover story, “Food or fuel, documenting the effects of the provincial government’s new Green Energy bill.” The proposed law, and our cover story, seem to have struck a nerve across Ontario. Farmers, who have long considered themselves as stewards of the land, are dismayed that developers may be empowered to turn productive land into “solar farms.” At the same time, some farmers hope to cash in on the potential to reap revenues at several times the going rate for electricity produced in traditional hydro-driven facilities by using solar technology on roofs and along fence rows.

We expect this story to unfold in the coming weeks and, at press time, we were awaiting results of an Ontario Municipal Board arbitration process in the case involving the Township of East Hawkesbury and Solaris Energy Partners Inc., on which we reported in our April issue. Stay tuned for up-to-date coverage of this issue and other Ontario farm news on the Breaking News section of our website: BF

Robert Irwin & Don Stoneman

Better Farming - May 2009