Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Food and drink: Oh, the joys of farming

A glimpse behind the curtain of that hamburger on your plate



If you ever care to test how much you really know about farming and what it takes to get your basic litre of milk or meat patty into your kitchen, drop in to an agricultural exhibition.

I did just that at the Pacific Agricultural Show in Abbotsford last week, and before I passed the entrance I had already learned something new - Abbotsford, generating some $1.8 billion in farm and agri-business economic activity, is considered the agricultural capital of Canada.

The ag show featured a petting farm and seminars on everything from berry growing to reducing your greenhouse energy bills, but the main feature was a huge trade show that filled the 120,000-sq-ft Tradex building.

Strolling past the exhibitors, my head was turning faster than a harrow's rakes taking in the tractors with tires taller than me, the bright green goop you paint on livestock's hooves to prevent infection, and the seemingly magical automated machines that use laser or infrared light to sort out under-ripe and over-ripe blueberries from perfect ones.

Despite all these wonders, or maybe because of them, it struck me that for something as fundamental as food, most of us know darn little about the behind-the-scenes details of farm-to-fork. That includes me, and I write about these topics all the time.

I mean, food production issues aren't exactly like issues surrounding something like, say, jackhammer production.

But give yourself an hour at an ag show and you'll grok at least a handful of the many considerations farmers deal with every day to get us our food and what might, or might not, be in it for us, depending on the choices they make.

For instance, take your basic raspberries, which Jordan Sturdy, who owns North Arm Farm in Pemberton, was researching at the show.

What kind of raspberry canes will you grow? If you're processing them instead of selling them fresh-to-market, you'll have to consider different criteria. Processed berries need to stand up to machine harvesting and ripen all at once, but if you're going to sell fresh berries, flavour is king. If you go U-pick you'll have a different set of issues, never mind the pests your carefully planted canes might face.

"The raspberry dwarf virus is a problem down there in the Fraser Valley, so you want to have something resistant to that. Then you have your root rot considerations. To top it all off there's a new pest that's just shown up, the drosophila, which has never been seen here before, and God knows where it came from, but everyone is kind of panicking about it," says Jordan.