Sunday, July 14, 2024
Chris Judd

There’s NO free lunch

That’s an old saying that I haven’t heard since aunt Jean died. Grandpa used to tell us about back in the ‘30s, men walking up the old highway in front of our farm and asking him as he was walking in for dinner, which you could smell a mile away, “would you have something that I could do to earn my dinner?” Grandpa always had something like hoeing a few rows of potatoes or helping him fence for a while after dinner. If it was later in the afternoon, he might ask grandpa if he could sleep in the barn till morning. If the chap didn’t smoke he was offered a warm dry place in the barn until morning.
Until after WW1, more than half the country’s population either lived on or worked on a farm. Then industrialization began in cities like Montreal, Ottawa or other smaller towns beside a river which was used for waterpower for the factories. Technology in those factories began in earnest when labour became either too expensive or just unavailable. Today we are witnessing more and more dairy farms using robots to milk the cows because it’s becoming more difficult to find experienced employees to get up at 5 a.m. to milk and even harder to find one to milk from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. It still takes a very smart robot to assess the health and condition of a milk cow, as she enters the milking stall better than the trained eye of an experienced herdsman or herds lady.
For more than a century, we have watched family after family move from the country to cities where working days were shorter and there were more days off to enjoy life. From the turn of the century, 1899-1900, a holiday on the farm for young men meant going on the harvest excursion by train to the west (Man. Sask. or Alta.) to help with the wheat harvest and maybe fall plowing. That was before giant combine harvesters arrived. Eastern farms that were well organized could take off their harvest with a couple fewer young farmers by working together with other farmers. The excursion was a chance for farm boys to see a different part of Canada and come home with a pocket full of money. Those harvest excursions continued until the ‘50s when huge tractors and combines became normal on the western farms. Today we watch food banks and soup kitchens overwhelmed with people looking for help just to eat and feed their kids. Then the next thing on TV is someone suggesting that the country go to a three or four day work week? Technology has allowed us to get jobs completed or cars or trucks made, or wheat turned into bread with only a fraction of the labour that it did a century ago, but can everyone afford the technology change? The use of gas and oil has allowed us to move around much faster than with the horse. It has allowed us to live farther away from work and fly thousands of miles away to far away vacation spots, but at what cost to our planet in carbon emissions?
We have become used to using plastic made from petroleum for everything from throw away water bottles to about half of our new car and most of the clothes that we wear, but where does all this plastic end up? If we bury it does it ever break down? If we burn it how much toxic, cancer-causing emissions are released into the air that either we breathe or falls on the plants and soil and eventually we consume? Do the petroleum companies collect and reuse most of that throw away plastic so there is less new plastic needed?
I was thunderstruck last night when it was announced that 30 per cent of our new electronic gadgets such as fridges, toasters, air conditioners, and a thousand others, get thrown away within a few years. Many of those have gasses, batteries and other toxic ingredients that get released into our air that we breathe when they are trashed. We still have a fridge that works in our basement that gramps bought in 1949. What’s wrong with the new technology that it won’t last like that?
When we watch TV, we see our supposedly smart politicians argue over a solution to reducing our out-of-control climate change that is slowly destroying our planet. A couple of our provinces, one at each end of our country, have already taken control of reducing carbon emissions themselves and they are meeting federal targets. Another also wants to take control of their own and is already on target. Federally, we have not been offered any other logical solution except “we can do better.” Maybe we should take control of reducing our own waste. If we can’t eat it, drink it, compost it, or as grandma did, “use it to light the stove,” just don’t bring it home.
Everyone got stressed out trying to get their heads around coping with changes imposed because of adaptations required to get us through the “COVID-19” situation. Everyone should be offered free training in how to deal with extra stress and mental fatigue caused by those never before encountered problems.

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.