IWCA Q&A: Bridging the divide
The role of farming in Canada and Peggy Brekveld’s role within it.
Peggy Brekveld is an ag advocate, dairy farmer and family woman living in Thunder Bay, Ont. She’s vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and the Agricultural Adaptation Council, and a graduate of the Rural Ontario Institute’s Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program. Alex Barnard, associate editor of Top Crop Manager and Manure Manager, chatted with Brekveld about the importance of building relationships between farming and politics and how being different helps broaden the conversation.
What do you like best about your many roles?
On the farm, I love the way of life. I love that we live in a really beautiful part of the country, I love the fresh air and the physical work every day is very good for the soul. And I love watching my family and my husband thrive there. But I have to say, I’ve probably thrived more in my role with the OFA.
I love that I’m the bridge; I’m the relationship between farmers and politicians, government and regulators. I think there’s a necessity for that role. People don’t always understand why farmers do the things they do; why certain policies may be difficult or inappropriate.
We need to be able to speak their language as well, and I like to think I’m that person. I love being at farming events and hearing the stories of farmers – both the good things and the challenges they’re having – and I like having the ability to go and convey those things to people who can make a difference in policy and government.
What keeps you excited about working in agriculture?
The people; the relationships! Farmers have a special way of looking at the world and looking at life. They often know life and death through their businesses. They know that sometimes things are not in their control – they can’t do much about the weather – and yet they still adapt and change.
I often say we’re optimists in action, even if we’re not in words, because every year we say, “I’m going to plant again.” We look forward to the rain and sunshine and we think, “Well, next year will be a better year.” Most of us, at least. There’s something special about that.
There are challenges in front of us – this COVID-19 thing has certainly shaken our world – that really have affected our bottom line. There are farmers who are seriously worried whether they’ll make it. But we still need food. I think someone will plant a crop at the beginning of the year; people will still raise animals because they love what they do.
It’s brave to keep farming year after year. There are no guarantees, but it needs to be done.
We don’t talk often enough about why agriculture is so vital to our world and why farmers are so important. It’s sometimes taken for granted that they will plant again. And yet, we do need to make a profit; we do need to make a living in order to continue. We are farmers and we love what we do, but we’re still a business and we have to make a living.
If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
It’s advice I would give anyone: don’t be afraid; never fear the fact that you are different from everyone else. I have sat in a lot of rooms where I may be one of two or three women, or where I’ve been the youngest participant. I’ve been in rooms in Toronto where I’m the only person that doesn’t live in a condo and really understands what farming is and has touched the soil in the
I think it’s okay to be different because it brings a different perspective. You are going to challenge their thoughts on issues and bring a broader knowledge to them because you have something unique to offer.