by HARRISON PERKINS & BETTER FARMING STAFF
In 2010, Grey County farmer Sean McGivern was the Ontario Coordinator of the National Farmers Union. On Saturday, in Peterborough, McGivern was elected president at the first meeting of the upstart Practical Farmers of Ontario.
photo: Sean McGivern,newly elected president, Practical Farmers of Ontario
“I won’t say I left. I was run off,” by the NFU leadership, explained McGivern, 33, in a telephone interview before the meeting. “I was coordinator for a year and I was re-elected at the 2011 AGM (of the Ontario local of the NFU.) The national board has the final say even though a motion was passed at the AGM and installed another gentleman in my place.”
The national organization “didn’t respect the wishes of the membership” in Ontario, McGivern says. “I tried to work through that whole situation but it seemed to present a lot of difficulties so myself and three other directors resigned from the board of directors last year.”
McGivern says those three former NFU board members were instrumental in setting up the new Practical Farmers association.
Ann Slater, St. Marys, the current Ontario Coordinator of the NFU, says “the format for putting an appointment in place is actually an appointment by the national executive. There was no election for coordinator. There was a motion from region 3 Ontario that Sean be appointed as the coordinator."
photo: NFU Ontario Coordinator Ann Slater
Slater says: “There were some concerns based on the resignation letter that Sean had sent some months earlier. It was sent to the national executive and to the regional council indicating that he was resigning as coordinator.
“At the time of the Ontario convention,” Slater says, “he sort of reversed his decision.
“In his resignation he expressed concerns that he did not agree with the positions” that the NFU expressed on supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board. “I think the national executive just wanted to know that he was able to separate his personal views from his NFU work. They wanted some clarity,” she continues. “When he is speaking on behalf of the NFU will he be able to give the NFU position?”
Slater says the other three regional directors who resigned from the NFU board were: Michael Schmidt and Rae MacIntyre from Grey County and Steve Dick from south of Ottawa. Dick was elected vice-president of the Practical Farmers on Saturday.
OMAFRA stalled on GFOs
The disgruntled former NFU directors have caused some grief for that organization. Slater says the council members who resigned have “suggested that the NFU in Ontario should not be re-accredited. They made their opinions known to the (Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal) Tribunal. The NFU’s re-accreditation hearing was re-adjourned on Sept. 15. None of the three farm organizations in Ontario have been notified of their re-accreditation, Slater says. They began asking members to renew their memberships in January. She says the NFU membership last year was 2,600-2,700.
Schmidt was a speaker on Saturday, but declined a nomination to a position on the new organization’s board. Schmidt was found not guilty in 2010, after being charged with distributing raw milk.
photo: Michael Schmidt speaks at the inaugural meeting of the Practical Farmers of Ontario held March 31, 2012 in Peterborough, Ontario
In late 2006, Schmidt’s farm at Durham was raided by armed inspectors from the Ministry of Natural Resources. Since that time, there has been debate and speculation over the effects of unpasteurized milk, as well as consumers’ rights.
Other speakers were Shawn Carmichael of Spencerville, ON, and Ian Cumming of Burke, New York. Carmichael pleaded guilty in October of 2006 to five charges laid against him under the provincial Farm Products Marketing Act by Egg Farmers of Ontario.
Photo: Shawn Carmichael describes marketing board raid oin his farm
Carmichael says his farm was raided twice by the egg marketing board and his eggs pulled from grocery store shelves. “If you don’t know your rights you don’t have any,” he said.
“There is a mental depression in the countryside,” Schmidt said, and half a million regulations in place get in the way of farmers. He suggested that the new farm group should offer a workshop to members on civil disobedience so that they can stand up and fight for their rights.
Cumming is a journalist, a critic of supply management and a former Glengarry County dairy producer who moved the family operation to the United States. “Personal rights have been forsaken,” he says.
The group spent Saturday afternoon discussing the bylaws and regulations that the group wants to follow.
GFO status possible but initial numbers low
A minimum of 250 members is required and 10 “county locals” must be established to meet the province’s requirements for a general farm organization, McGivern says. Last week he predicted, based upon the number of emails and telephone calls received in the run-up to the meeting, that there would be no trouble reaching that number.
There were 53 people at the meeting on Saturday, paying $20 each to attend. McGivern says he expected between 50 and 100 people and was happy with the turnout. He says the NFU has more than 2,400 members and not many more than 60 came to its annual meeting in March.
McGivern admits that he doesn’t see eye to eye with the NFU position on supply management and the Canadian Wheat Board and wants to see change. “I don’t think it is good enough to maintain the status quo and keep our head in the sand.”
McGivern say he sees opportunities for Canadian poultry and dairy farmers to process and export products overseas. He says he wants quota value “returned to zero… where it was supposed to be.”
McGivern says he is speaking on behalf of small farmers, even though he isn’t one himself. McGivern farms 2,200 acres in Grey County, some organic, some conventional, and feeds about 2,000 hogs, mostly on byproducts from his flour mill in Desboro. McGivern says he was the first farmer to re-introduce Red Fife wheat to Ontario.
Other farmers elected to the Practical Farmers board include Meaford organic farmer Gerald te Velde, Julie Jones, an asparagus farmer from Pontypool, and treasurer Robert Pinnell, a member of the workers cooperative which operates Schmidt’s Glencolton Farms at Durham.
McGivern says members at large include: George Wright of Ottawa, Pauline O’Brien of Lindsay, Keith Salisbury of Lanark, and Wayne Hilton of Chatsworth. BF