By Tom Collins
BELLWOOD “Is it true, veal is so tender because farmers beat the animals with two-by-fours?”
Sounds preposterous but this is an actual question asked of veal farmer Joyce Feenstra.
But thats not all. Shes been asked: “If you feed your animals in the dark, do they have to be in the dark for 24 hours?” and “Is it true you tie up the animals so they cant run around and they stay close to your house?”
Clearing up urban myths like these is one of the reasons Feenstra enrolled late last year in a public speaking training session in defence of farming offered by the Farm & Food Care Foundation.
“It blew me away when I was at the Royal Winter Fair and someone mentioned (the two-by-fours). I just looked at them and said Pardon me? I dont think enough is being done on public education, especially when you get the W5 outbreaks. This is a great opportunity to speak out.”
At least six Mercy for Animals Canada undercover videos on Canadian farms have been broadcast on major TV news networks since 2012. The first one, of a Manitoba hog farm, appeared on CTVs W5. There are numerous anti-farming groups, including the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, with ongoing outrageous campaigns, waged in hopes of swaying public opinion.
The next free one-day defence-of-farming training session, titled the Speakers Bureau, will be Feb. 24 at the Coldstream Community Centre in Ilderton near London.
Kelly Daynard, communications manager with Farm & Food Care Ontario, said the course is not meant to encourage farmers to engage with anti-farming activists because you wont be able to change their minds. The goal is to talk to those who may be swayed by inaccurate reports of farming, ranging from animal care to neonicotinoid-treated seeds.
Daynard said the organization gets plenty of inquiries from community groups, service clubs and schools looking for someone to speak on farming.
“If I can find a farmer to speak on an issue, 10 times out of 10, thats way more credible than me as a staff girl sitting in an office in Guelph,” she said. “Theres no better place for people to get information about food and farming than from the people producing their food. Theres a real demand, and theres a lot of misinformation out there. So if we can help clear that up and have some passionate, well-spoken people working in the agri-sector, then I think we need to back them.”
Attendees are given booklets about five topics animal care, farming and the environment, food safety, myth-busting and a general farm overview and are encouraged to relate the subjects to their own farm to create a unique presentation.
Feenstra who runs the farm with her husband Duco in Bellwood, north of Guelph has already given her first presentation to a Grade 10 class at a Waterloo high school. She said farmers need to defend their livelihood.
“A lot of farmers just go out there and do their job every day because this is what they do,” she said. “I dont think they really understand the consumer. Very few farmers try to see where the consumers are coming from. Consumers look at it completely differently. More farmers should stand up and say this is what we believe and this is what happens on our farms.”