By John Lynch and Ruth Thurston
Whose hang up is it, anyway?
On September 19 a team of nine Monsanto Canada employees – our entire governmental and regulatory affairs group in Ottawa, ON – got out of the office and got our hands dirty picking carrots for the Ottawa Food Bank. It feels really good to say that now, not only because we accomplished something together, but also because for a while we wondered if it would happen.
We originally identified this opportunity in the summer. Through the Monsanto Fund, Monsanto Canada supports the Ontario Association of Food Banks’ Community Harvest program, which works with farmers in the province to provide donated produce to food banks. The Black Family Farms near Stittsville, ON is one of those farms that makes land available for this purpose to the Ottawa Food Bank, which employs a full-time manager to plan and oversee the activities and direct volunteers.
Now, the Ottawa Food Bank farming operation depends on volunteer labor to get their produce planted, weeded and harvested. As we learned, the vast majority of those volunteers are college and university students. The vegetable operation is also functionally organic, but not certified.
This organic status is highly touted in several local blogs by green activists and on the OAFB’s website. We confess that this got us worried. If we wore our Monsanto Together T-shirts, would some of those green folks challenge us or confront us about our ties to Monsanto?
We seriously hesitated. Then we made a phone call to the Ottawa Food Bank. Our discovery? Organic and conventional agriculture exist almost side-by-side on this farm. In fact, the farm owner told us he grows Roundup Ready soybeans.
Our minds at ease, we eagerly anticipated our volunteer day at the farm.
When we arrived for training, Jason, the farm manager, told us the reason they grow their vegetables using organic production methods, is that they are afraid they will lose the volunteers they are so dependent on if they abandon organic farming. He explained that they lost a large amount of vegetables to a fungus this year, and no organic product could control the disease. But that’s nothing compared to the potential loss of their volunteer labor and their equipment costs, which Jason listed as the two biggest challenges on the farm.
We came away feeling terrific that we had harvested 500 pounds of carrots, enough to supply 100 families with their carrot requirements for a week. Our carrots were actually bound for the Ottawa Food Bank, which distributes the harvest to several other partner agencies, including at least one women’s shelter.
For a bunch of office dwellers who normally shuffle paper for a living, it was a refreshing change, and we felt closer to the kind of work that our company is really about.
We also learned that it takes a community to support a community. Hang ups or not, we’ve all got to come together to ensure that everyone has access to balanced meals. And those folks at Ottawa Food Bank have it figured out. Organic, conventional, genetically modified crops can all exist within the same food system, and we’ll likely need all of the above to make it happen.