Friday, March 6, 2015

The Lost Generation - 4-H Speech 2014

  *Not my typical writing post, but I wrote this for my 4-H public speaking event in 2014 and thought it would be worth sharing. I got first place for in at club level but since I hate public speaking with a passion I did not choose to move on to districts. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it, even if you're not into the agricultural business.
  

  Did you know that between 1991 and 2006 the number of farmers in Canada under 35 years old decreased by over 60 percent and the number of farms declined by more than 70,000?

  Thank you chairperson, honorable judges, ladies and gentlemen, fellow 4-H members, and guests.

   Here in the 21st century, few have the privilege of stepping outside on a warm summer morning to hear hens clucking contentedly and cattle lowing in the field. They are not able to walk to the garden and pull up a fresh carrot, hoe a hill of potatoes, or pick fresh peas off the vine. This way of life is rapidly disappearing.

  Gone are the times when farming families would work together to harvest vegetables from the garden.

  Gone are the days when children, after finishing their chores, could run down to the pond and spend an idyllic hour watching the fish and listening to the birds while looking out over acres of wheatfields.

  Gone are the evening meals when families recounted the day's accomplishments.

  A class of society is being lost before our eyes, and with it iconic barns and sprawling rural landscapes are fading at an alarming rate. The concept of a family farm, one that has been owned and operated by one family for generations, has been all but destroyed.

  What can we blame for this new urbanized world? A changing structure in both society and farming.

  “Everything is changing,” says the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities president, Dave Marit. “The size of the farms are getting larger, more people are leaving the farm, the agricultural community is aging, and there is not a large number of young people taking up farming.”

  The way that the farming industry is structured today, it is simply not economically feasible to operate a small family farm. According to Farm Aid, every week approximately 330 farmers leave their land for good.

  Many old timers are trying to hang on for as long as they can. A very large percentage of family farmers are in their fifties, sixties or seventies. My own grandfather is in his eighties and still working with us on the farm. Today, only about six percent of farmers are under the age of 35.
  A majority of youth these days are not eager to choose farming as a career. Many young adults who grew up on family farms have determined that investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a business that requires up to 12 hour work days, seven days a week, 365 days a year for small wages is simply not worth it.

  Those who choose to remain on the farm are often forced to find second jobs in order to support their families. Many family farms are consistently on the verge of financial ruin. An astounding 46 percent of farm owners work off the farm to sustain their operations. In fact, one of out every two farmers under the age of 55 reported a non-agricultural main occupation.

  This decline in family farms seems to have begun with the coming of the Second World War, followed by the increased urbanization of the 1950s. The biggest five year decrease on record was from 1956 to 1961, when the number of farms fell by 16.4 percent – a loss of more than 94,000 farms.

  Bright, city lights are another distraction. Today, farming is looked down upon while city-based, high-paying, white-collar jobs are glamorized. Also, some farmers do not want their children to “work as hard as I do” and advise them to pursue a different profession. As a result, statistics show that less than a third of farms have a designated successor in the family. Young people have weighed the pros and cons of farming and found it not worth the effort. Having a taste of the work that comes with farming, their reaction is similar to that of a young man I heard about recently; “This is the 21st century. I don't have to work this hard.”

  While this particular young man was rather rude, he was right. We don't have to work this hard. There are literally hundreds of options beyond the farm, ones physically easier and more financially rewarding. But what is the price we are paying by holding this mindset? Are we losing something far more valuable than a life of luxury and wealth and physical ease?

A Statistic's Canada report noted that in less than one lifetime, Canada has moved from one in three Canadians living on a farm to one in forty-six. Canada's farm population is continuing to steadily decline in numbers, dropping by 6.2 percent since 2001 to a total of 684,260 in 2006.

  In 1931, when the farm population count was first compiled, more than 3 million people were living on a farm – nearly 32 percent of the Canadian population.

  Today only about two percent of the population lives on a farm.

  In this technologically advanced world, most are unaware that a prosperous society does not hinge on acquiring gadgets, vehicles or other luxury items. Rather, a significant indicator of a healthy society is the stability of the family unit.

  As small farms vanish from the countryside, with them disappears one of the greatest environments capable of producing strong, character-driven families. This is one of the most tragic losses as the family farm dies out.  

  In the past, farm life provided a slower pace, with time to think. Built into the occupation was a healthier diet and workout routine. Life in the fields provided what Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and agriculturalist, Louis Bromfield called “the only profession in which man deals constantly with all the laws of the universe and life.”

  As I look around at our world today, and see how far we moved from the simple, earthy lifestyle that I have been so fortunate as to call my own, I wonder just how different our society would be if it went back to its roots. When I visit the city and see the enormous volumes of life teeming on the streets or in the mall, I wonder just what happened that caused us to forget the greater world beyond the concrete and the smog. I see the people of my generation wandering through life glued to their phones and ipods and other gadgets, failing to see the beauty just beyond the city limits. My trips into town leave me wondering why anyone would trade the heritage and the peace of their family farm for a busy, bustling, empty city lifestyle, which perhaps has plenty of personal gain but little lasting reward.


  But most of all, I look at us, obsessed with social media, the latest trends, and pop culture, and wonder if the lost generation will ever come back home.

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