Bigger conversations help farmers, says OFA president Peggy Brekveld

Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Peggy Brekveld.

For the second consecutive year, Thunder Bay, Ont. dairy farmer Peggy Brekveld will lead the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the province’s largest general farm organization.

Brekveld was elected president by OFA’s board of directors after the conclusion of the organization’s annual general meeting on Monday, Nov. 22. Mark Reusser and Drew Spoelstra were re-elected as vice presidents, and Crispin Colvin rounds out the four-member executive committee.

Brekveld believes the theme of the 2021 meeting — Connecting with Ontarians — in many ways reflects the achievements of the organization in the past year and what it hopes to accomplish in 2022. She touts OFA’s efforts to help preserve Ontario farmland as her greatest achievement during her first year as president. The organization’s Home Grown campaign focused on creating consumer awareness of disappearing farmland in the province — 175 acres is lost every day to development.  Another highlight was engaging Ontarians in “feeding your future” conversations and efforts to attract more people to work in the farming community, helping tackle the chronic ongoing labour shortage in the industry.

In this conversation with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Brekveld notes that the organization isn’t shifting away from its traditional efforts to lobby politicians at all government levels and to shape farm policy, but it is seeking to have bigger and broader conversations. Evidence of this approach can be seen in the OFA’s farmland preservation efforts and the Home Grown campaign, says Brekveld. “It may be acknowledgement of the fact that farmers are less than two per cent of the population… we need to engage the public, especially on issues like farmland preservation.” (Story continues after the interview.)

One way to move more people is to focus on a common denominator such as a growing concern for the future of food production, an issue that has hit the radar of consumers during COVID-19. Brekveld is pleased with the traction the campaign has gathered and the impact it has made in slowing urban development on farmland in areas such as Hamilton and Stratford.

In the interview, Brekveld also focuses on other issues directly impacting farmers, including the need to expand mental health programs designed for farmers. She comments on the importance of programs like the The Guardians Network, a new program announced during the OFA meeting that’s modelled after the Farmer Wellness Program.

“It’s really about helping people be aware of signs that somebody is struggling and having trouble, and how do you have that good conversation,” says Brekveld. “It’s about engaging farmers to look out for each other, but also people like veterinarians and feed dealers who are often the first ones that farmers talk to.”

Brekveld also discusses the OFA’s strategy for the upcoming provincial election, set for June 2022. She notes that farmland preservation, infrastructure and importance of food and the rural economy will certainly be key talking points when engaging vote-seeking politicians. “Farming matters where ever you live in this province,” says Brekveld.

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