It was not your regular Saturday morning at the Dieppe Farmer’s Market. As vendors and customers gathered inside the market last Saturday, December 5th, an old one ton truck stood in the parking lot with a sign along its side that read “La ferme familiale crève/The family farm is dying.” As the back doors opened, journalists flocked to watch the slaughter of a pig inside the truck.
Jean-Eudes Chiasson, President of the New Brunswick division of the National Farmers Union (NFU), ended the life of one of his pigs and proceeded to butcher the pig.
Chiasson, of Rogersville, admits to being extremely nervous before and during the protest. Once the pig was down, he looked to the journalists and said, “no one does this for pleasure. No one”.
He spoke of his protest as a response to the feeling of having nowhere else to turn; of the ineffectiveness and inability of conventional politics to address the issue.
During the protest, he spoke of the enduring plight of the family farm and the provincial and federal governments’ failure to effectively respond to the crisis.
Chiasson was accompanied by his son, daughter and family friend who spoke to journalists and curious passers by.
After the 40 minute protest, Chiasson spoke to journalists about the necessity of closing the gap between producers and consumers of the food. He wants to see more people educated on where food comes from, the conditions that food is grown and how our food systems affect animals, people and the local environment.
Chiasson criticized the government programs that are aimed at helping producers but really only increase the debt of farmers. Referring to the Hog Farm Transition Program and Growing Forward governmental initiatives, Chiasson said, “on one hand you have the federal government paying producers not to produce. Farmers are bidding against each other to leave the industry. On the other hand, you have the provincial government encouraging production.”
Chiasson pointed out that some remaining small-scale producers can survive by selling their products at farmers markets, but this is only helpful to those who are good at marketing. Chiasson believes farmers need a new model. He suggests farmers band together to establish farming cooperatives to manage prices and end competition so family farms can survive for future generations.
Reactions to the protest were mixed. Some venders and market goers felt it natural and crucial to understand the source of our food; others were disgusted and felt that the market was not the place for such a spectacle. Paul Gagnon, Dieppe market treasurer and former pig farmer, shook Chiasson’s hand and said “the point of farmers’ markets is to bring the farm to the city and that’s what Chiasson was doing in the back of his truck.”
As Chiasson cleaned up and split the pig in two, Deo Cuma of the House of Nazareth, a Moncton refuge for homeless men and women, pulled up in his van. Half of the pig was given as a symbol of solidarity to the home. Cuma said it was important to be in solidarity with the farmers.
Chiasson feels that some of the outcomes, if any, of his actions may be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the food security committee of the provincial government.
Joan Brady, NFU National Women’s President commended Chiasson for this action. “I know that it is not a choice he made lightly. He is correct in bringing the desperate situation of family hog farmers to the attention of all Canadians,” stated Brady. “At stake is the entire food system. Family farmers with their intimate knowledge of and reliance on the land are the best stewards of the environment and our best assurance for a safe and reliable food supply for the future.”
Brady, a farmer in Dashwood, Ontario, added, “In some jurisdictions, mine included, family hog farmers have been devastated enough to take their own lives. The result of three years of below cost of production pricing has left them so indebted that they cannot see hope for the future.” Brady pointed out that food production is not just a farm issue, it is an issue for anyone who eats.
At the 40th annual convention of the NFU in Ottawa two weekends ago, Chiasson issued a call for action to farmers from across Canada.
The NFU, established in 1969, works toward the development of economic and social policies that will maintain the family farm as the primary food-producing unit in Canada. The NFU in New Brunswick is one of two accredited general farm organizations in the province, serving farmers from all commodity groups.