One cannot understand farming in Canada without recognizing the impact of Dutch Canadian farmers.
As Canada celebrates a milestone birthday, farmers are also celebrating Agriculture 150 and all the changes and innovations that have made Canadian farming what it is today. One cannot understand farming in Canada without recognizing the impact of Dutch Canadian farmers. Many arrived in a major wave of immigration following the Second World War, when Canada was in need of agricultural labour and the Netherlands was undertaking the arduous process of rebuilding. In time, these immigrants were able to settle and establish farming businesses of their own. Now second and third generations descended from those immigrants continue to run prosperous farming businesses.
It was not only as farmers that these immigrants came to Canada but also as faithful Christians. Many who chose to make Canada their home were from Neo-Calvinist denominations. The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario (CFFO) was created thanks to the effort and vision of Dutch Neo-Calvinist farmers who settled in Ontario. It continues to be active in agriculture today. CFFO membership now consists of a diverse group of Christians, mainly Protestants, but also Catholics, and Orthodox, significantly of Dutch descent, but now from a plurality of backgrounds.
At first glance, the CFFO might look like an anachronistic Dutch pillar organization transplanted here in Canada. However, the Dutch seed of a Christian farming organization planted and growing in Canadian “soil” has prospered and created something special to Ontario. The strong faith and Christian vision of sphere sovereignty brought over by these original immigrants continues today in the work of the organizations they founded, including Christian Reformed Church congregations, Christian schools, Christian publications and political parties, and the CFFO. Indeed when they founded the CFFO in 1954 these immigrants were recreating in Canada a religiously based farming organization similar to one from the Netherlands.
Through active engagement to bring Christian principles and a Christian voice into agricultural policy making, the CFFO has grown beyond its Dutch roots and created a place for itself within the conversation on agricultural issues in Canada. Christian principles of the importance of family and caring for creation were expressed in CFFO’s longtime focus on North American debates about the importance of the family farm and adapting the Christian concept of stewardship to address care for creation in farming.
The CFFO has changed over the decades. By the 1970s, the CFFO hired and sustained full-time staff Elbert van Donkersgoed and Martin Oldengarm, who were key staff and leaders for the CFFO for over three decades. Membership grew through the 1980s as faithful farmers saw the value of sustaining a strong Christian voice on agricultural issues. In the 1990s government legislation meant many more farmers chose to support CFFO’s vision. Today CFFO has 21 local districts across all the arable regions of the province. Clarence Nywening, current CFFO President, has recently been involved in issues such as the representation of growers in negotiating fair pricing, and speaking to the media about the impact of animal activism on family farmers.
Farmers today can manage more animals and acres with ever-improving methods and technology, which makes for greater economic prosperity for all Canadians. This has also resulted in fewer farmers across the country, which also means far fewer Canadians have direct contact with farming in their day-to-day lives, and few know farmers personally.
This is creating new challenges for farmers as they seek to help the broader public understand the benefits of modern farming, the high standards of environmental and animal care that Canadian farmers meet and exceed every day, and the various economic systems that Canadians have put in place to ensure farmers are able to receive a fair price for the good food they produce. Christian principles that CFFO has supported for years such as good land stewardship, care for animals, fair pricing to sustain family livelihood, and respect for government all continue to be relevant in the new challenges that arise in agricultural policy making today.