Another winter is just around the corner, and in farming, that means meeting season will kick into high gear. Most farm organizations hold their annual general meetings, as well as policy and education events over the fall and winter because that’s when our members are least busy with planting, harvesting and all other kinds of warm weather tasks.
The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) is no different – after many years of being held just after the Christmas holidays, our annual general meeting now takes place in February in conjunction with the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention. Ahead of that meeting, our member associations hold their annual meetings where they elect directors and develop resolutions.
Fall is a great time to give some thought to becoming involved in farm politics, or perhaps encouraging a younger member of your family or your farm’s team to consider volunteering their time to make a difference for fellow growers.
So many individuals I see around the board tables of the organizations I’m involved with have been there for the last 15, 20 or even 25 years, and I include myself in that group. That’s why it’s so important for us to encourage new people, particularly younger farmers, to become involved.
The boards of provincial farm and commodity organizations are where many policy decisions are made that directly impact the future direction their industry is going to take. That’s why new and different opinions are vital, especially from younger farmers who have different experiences and thought processes that can help influence what’s happening around those board tables.
In the bigger picture, our farm leaders are ultimately the people who represent us in lobbying governments, helping secure funding programs, ensuring agriculture’s voice is heard in lawmaking, and even participating in international trade negotiations.
I understand that time is a major barrier, particularly for younger farmers who are busy balancing building their own businesses with growing families. It can be tough to head off to a grower meeting in the evening after a long day in the orchard or field, but there are ways to become involved that don’t require the same time commitment that a leadership role in a provincial farm organization does.
The first step to getting involved is participating in meetings at the local level or with your commodity organization. Listen to the discussions and participate in the resolution process by speaking up and voicing your opinion. Volunteer to serve on a committee, help with a local event or let your name stand for a local director position.
I was 24 when I was first elected to the grape board, committing to two meetings a month and gradually growing into the role of a director. It helped me build capacity on the farm to fill in during an absence, and let me become familiar with issues I was passionate about and wanted to become more involved with.
How to attract those new people remains a challenge all farm groups grapple with.
At OFVGA, we sponsor young growers to attend our annual meeting for the first time so they can get an idea of what the organization is about. Ontario Apple Growers have a young grower group, and Grape Growers of Ontario have established a new committee for younger growers. Other commodity organizations are offering training programs to prepare their sector’s next generation of leaders.
In short, we’re doing our best to support the involvement of younger growers – and if there are things you think we should be doing to that end, but aren’t, please let us know.
Ultimately, your own farm business takes precedence and you have to make sure that’s looked after, but if you have the luxury of carving out some time for something new, I encourage you to consider taking an active role in the future of your industry, however small a step you might be comfortable starting out with.
We need your ideas, your perspectives and your leadership in our fruit and vegetable sector in the months and years to come.