Dr. John Varty is setting out to chronicle how and why agriculture production has changed in Canada as farmers work to meet the demands of an increasing global population. The professor who taught agriculture and environmental history courses through the MacMillan Center at Yale University is traveling across the country, driving a Massey Ferguson 1660 compact tractor. He will explore a variety of agriculture-related subjects, from the enduring family farm to the new generation of farmers to food production to land-use changes.
“There have been a fair number of books and documentaries released in recent years that explore how food is produced,” explains Varty. “There are two poles of thought that much of this literature would have us believe. The first is the idea that our food is right on the edge of becoming nonexistent via corporate involvement. And on the other end of that scale there seems to be this type of white-knight story, where someone is supposed to ride in and save us all. The truth of the matter is that the majority of farmers in Canada are still working out of a family unit, and I want to talk with these farmers to learn more about the challenges they face each day.”
The trip will be filmed and the footage used to produce a documentary. Varty will depart June 30 from Atlantic Tractors and Equipment Ltd., the Massey Ferguson dealership in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Massey Ferguson, which is sponsoring the tractor ride, has a deep connection to Canadian agriculture, dating back more than 160 years. In 1847, Daniel Massey opened a small workshop to build farm implements in Newcastle, Ontario.
“What Dr. Varty is undertaking is truly a unique project in every sense of the word. Given our Canadian history, it made perfect sense to get involved with this effort,” says Rajesh Joshi, director of marketing at Massey Ferguson. “It’s not every day you hear about an individual who wants to hit the road to connect with farmers to better understand who they are, what they do and how they work. It’s just as much our responsibility as it is anyone else’s in agriculture to help consumers understand how and why the industry has evolved.”
During the tractor ride, Varty will visit more than 20 Massey Ferguson dealerships throughout Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. As Varty travels from town to town, he will make additional stops that coincide with local events, such as art festivals, music festivals, theater festivals and sporting events, among others. At each stop, farmers, food company officials, government representatives, community leaders and university professors will be invited to share their respective thoughts and ideas as they relate to food and food production in Canada.
“Our travels will include a hay wagon featuring a small cabin that replicates a 1950s-style bungalow to provide us shelter and sleeping quarters,” says Varty. “I’ll conduct the majority of my interviews with people in a seating area on the wagon. While we’re going to invite people on board to share their thoughts and ideas, I also envision some creative uses for the wagon as well, such as inviting a local band to use it as a grandstand. I really don’t know what to expect until we depart from Charlottetown. That’s when all of the experiences, interviews and personal stories we’ll use in the documentary will truly begin.”
To learn more about Dr. John Varty’s cross-country tractor ride, visit www.tractorcanada.com. For more information about Massey Ferguson, and its history in Canada, visit www.masseyferguson.com.
Daniel Foss is a public relations specialist with Broadhead, based in Minneapolis.