In a pastoral statement “The People and the Land,” issued at the beginning of March, the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops (OCCB) called for action to stop the destruction of the family farm. They stressed three urgent needs; an end to the commercial development of farmlands, help for debt-ridden farmers, and public awareness of the importance of food production.
A Federal Task Report in 1969, entitled “Canadian Agriculture in the Seventies,” was, in the bishops’ opinion, responsible for a great deal of harm. It assumed that Canadian agriculture was underdeveloped and in need of specialization, and that by 1990 two-thirds of the farm population would be eliminated, leaving more efficient and productive farm units. Governments have implemented the Task Force recommendations, and the social impact on farm families and the land has been disastrous. The Ontario farm community is beset with the social ills of our time: economic pressures, depression, uprooting and so on. In the bishops’ opinion, it is time to say “enough!” We need policies which will assist the farm family to survive, instead of feeling more and more threatened, they argued. The statement contained sections on the economic situation, a just remuneration, debt subsidies and environmental considerations – the last containing evidence presented to the Canadian Senate, that the land is being abused through maximization of production and soil erosion. Following a list of areas of concern and recommendations, there is a brief but thought-provoking meditation on what the Bible says about the earth, its fruitfulness, and the way of life of those who farm it.
In a press conference held when the statement was issued, Bishop John Sherlock of London, Ontario said that urban people are usually ill-informed, uninvolved and unmotivated to do anything about the agricultural crisis- “But it’s their crisis too,” he observed. He said that the majority of farm families cannot even support themselves, and that the church is concerned with the tremendous human toll in family stress and marriage break-down when a farm is lost because of debt, “Any society that does not have a strong agricultural component,” he declared, “is a society that is in difficulty, and Canada is rapidly moving in that direction.”