By 2018/2019 Action Canada Fellow Sally Guy:
As our cohort has been tasked with creating policy recommendations around the future of food, this was a question I heard whispered a number of times during the recent Action Canada tour in Saskatoon. And indeed, throughout our week in Saskatoon, Lanigan, Laird and other stops in between, many different tensions rose to the surface. Tensions around technological advancements, the environment, and also fundamental, ideological differences in what people value: the different ways we produce, eat, buy and live. That said, I didn’t leave the experience discouraged. In fact, quite the opposite. The tour left me energized, hopeful, and curious.
“What did you learn?”
That’s the question I’ve been asked the most since returning from Saskatchewan – and though I learned so much about agriculture, trade, the environment, and myriad other things – my lasting impression is more philosophical than practical: food is controversial because we care so deeply about it – because it touches each aspect of our lives, our planet. The tensions that exist are a sign of how very much people care. Each of the people we met genuinely – palpably – cared about their communities, their land and the impact of their practices.
“What’s your number one take away?”
That’s another one that comes up a lot – and after spending time in Saskatchewan, my takeaway is that people are incredibly generous. Generous with their time, with their patience and with their knowledge.
This tour was a veritable embarrassment of riches: amazing food (shout out in particular to Chef Jenni and SaskMade Marketplace – just, wow), golden fields as far as the eye can see and inspiring company.
Huge thanks are owed to:
Professor Richard Gray, who started us off with an introduction to agriculture in Saskatchewan, introducing key concepts like zero tillage, and making sure we had a good footing for the rest of the tour.
Dr. Wilf Keller, CEO of Ag-West Bio Inc., who explained the Protein Industries Canada Supercluster and patiently answered questions like, “what’s the difference between a Supercluster and REGULAR cluster? (basically, it’s bigger).
Alanna Koch, who educated us about the political landscape in Saskatchewan and provided courageous reflections on being a woman in politics — and got us all talking about work around gender that still needs to be done.
Dr. John Pomeroy and Dr. Jay Famiglietti of USask, who provided two of the most good-natured doomsday predictions you could ever ask for, leaving us chuckling at their black humour but knowing our work is cut out for us on climate change – it’s no small feat to simultaneously frighten and inspire.
Rob Norris of USask who took the time to take us on an impromptu tour of a synchotron – Canada’s Brightest Light Source – which is used for thousands of scientific applications and innovations.
Clinton Monchuk of Farm and Food Care SK and his father, Fred, who toured us around their family farm DURING Clinton’s mother’s birthday celebrations (and who, instead of asking when we’d be done already, offered us tupperwares full of cake to take on the rest of our tour) answering our endless questions that ranged from inquiring about spirituality and religion in farming communities to the safety of Roundup. Plus, they even let us up on their combines.
Ryder Lee, CEO of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association and Ellen Grueter of SaskCanola, who spent an entire day with us, offering reflections on not only the values of farming communities, but on practical matters like “are all cows this chubby?”;
The folks at Pound-Maker Feedlot & Ethanol Plant who likely answered 10 or so variations of the question “so how similar is this to moonshine?”
Chris Randall, Director of the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership, who led us on a walk around west Saskatoon, reflecting on poverty, gentrification, reconciliation and the critical importance of not only housing, but community and a sense of place – and introduced us his friend Keith Sanderson, a knowledge keeper who shared his story of hope and advocacy.
Dr. Don Buckingham, CEO of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, who came with us on multiple tours to offer behind the scenes commentary; his knowledge of the industry often allowing him to act as a second tour guide.
Dr. Priscilla Settee of USask, who provided rich insight into the impacts of on-going colonialism on traditional ways of being and modern food security, reminding us that lived experience is a crucial form of knowledge.
Glenna Cayen, who talked about the really neat innovations going on in Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, and how they are collaborating with folks with expertise in permaculture to build new community resources/spaces like a food forest.
Prof. Rachel Engler-Stringer – who I can’t help but think of as an honourary social worker because of the focus of her work – provided concrete examples on the incredibly interconnected nature of the social determinants of health through her research on food security and health.
Cam Broten, former leader of the SK NDP and now of the Saskatchewan Egg Producers, who spent an hour with us, just chatting, answering all our questions about what politics is like behind the scenes, and what it takes to make it as a leader.
Shawn Harman, a third-generation egg farmer, who took us around Star Egg grading facility (and was extremely patient as we Instagrammed each station – the egg washing process is deeply hypnotic and oddly satisfying to watch, a little ASMR-ish even).
Diane Adams, André Bear and Max Fineday: three of the most engaging, gracious speakers you could ever wish to hear, who generously offered their time and their energy to – once again – educate settler folks on the diversity of Indigenous narratives and experiences, and how acknowledging complicity and sitting in that discomfort, should both humble us and act as a stepping stone to change.
John Cote and Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote of Black Fox Farm and Distillery, who guided us around their farm, explaining not only the nitty gritty details of gin and whiskey production, but talking about the importance of being a community hub – and, unexpectedly perhaps, of the role of courage and risk-taking in building a valuable, meaningful life.
George Kingfisher of Young Chippewayan First Nation, and Ray Funk, Wilmer and Barb Froese of the Mennonite Community in Laird, SK who shared an incredibly emotional afternoon with us, talking about living our values – offering us a screening of the powerful film Reserve 107 (an absolute must watch) and providing a concrete example of reconciliation in action.
Alanna Orsak, a farmer and researcher studying the genetic modification of chickpeas, who spent a good portion of the week with us and answered heaven-only-knows how many questions about GMOs, ethics and other difficult topics with grace and patience.
Prof. Peter Phillips of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy who made us laugh and reflect in equal measures, providing some of the most practical comments of the trip on the potential role of the federal government in ag-policy moving forward (big data and interoperability!).
Paul Ledoux of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation who spoke to us about the incredible innovation that was the urban reserve. Muskeg Lake’s was the first of its kind and we gained so much insight into the policy development process.
Brian Topp, who is also one of the mentors for the Action Canada program, devoted an entire afternoon to talking to us about public speaking: how to address our ticks (we all have ‘em) and proposing practical tips to improve, all delivered with a hearty dose of humour that left the fellows awed at having the opportunity to be molded by one of the political greats.
Suzanne Nault, whose expert guidance through a peer coaching process had us seeing things in new ways, forging stronger group bonds – and whose kindness and patience fosters such an incredibly warm environment for all those around her.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our other mentors, Elaine Feldman and Guillaume Lavoie. Their commitment to the program – and their experience – is remarkable.
The PPF team, Anna Jahn, Jonathan Perron-Clow and Katherine Chirke – and Dion Martens who made time to drop in and help out our direction-setting – and others behind the scenes for putting this incredible agenda together. I can’t believe the people and experiences we’ve been given access to. We are in such good hands.
Finally, I have to thank the other Fellows, who I am honoured to be spending time with. But I’ll have to save that for another post.
And to anyone who actually read this to the end, and who may be thinking about applying for next year’s Action Canada program: do it.