Building Community – One Bag of Potatoes at a Time

Mark & Yanara Peters – Certified Seed Potato Growers

Is it possible to give away 35,000 lbs of potatoes in just under 5 hours? Why yes,      it is.  And growers, Mark and Yanara Peters were thrilled to make it a reality.  On October 14 they hauled in their potato trucks and a conveyor, from their farm 12 miles northwest of Portage la Prairie, and made it happen.

 

  Despite the cool Saturday morning, people were already lined up by 8:30 – a half hour before the Portage Community Potato Give-Away was slated to start. They came pushing strollers, riding bikes, walking and  on scooters, as well as by car and truck. Many heard about the event on local media or on-line, while others just happened by and wondered what all the fuss was about.

Well, the ‘fuss’ was about sharing a bountiful crop, building community, listening and sharing stories. It would be much simpler to take produce directly to a food bank or soup kitchen to distribute, but last fall at their first community give-away, the Peters discovered the magic in the one-on-one interaction. They don’t consider or mention the effort, time or cost that this intentional act of giving requires.  But they do remember and appreciate how generous people were with them as young adults and simply want to pay it forward.

Gathering spuds along the 36-foot conveyor

With the help of a few volunteers, people gathered around the conveyor – some approaching cautiously, unsure of what to do and/or in disbelief that could they take as many potatoes as they needed. As bags and boxes were filled, they opened up about their lives, and those of others whom they were helping. Grandmothers spoke of the after-school meals they make in their homes for children in their community. They are not only nourishing bodies, but souls and passing on their cooking skills to another generation.

 

Those who live alone took small bags for themselves, but many knew of families in need or shut-ins who would also appreciate the farm-fresh produce. Immigrants spoke of the gratitude they have for living in Canada and the joy in being reunited family members as they arrive. Some people were there to collect potatoes for perogy fundraisers or church dinners — supporting other needs in the community.

Food memories were shared — how family-favourite soups were made, preferred methods for cooking up spuds, whether it be fried, mashed or baked, which spices they like to use and if butter or gravy was the best. One young mom was taking the potatoes home to make Irish Potato Bread. She described how her grandmother, now living in a care home, had taught her to make it — her pride in carrying on tradition was evident.

Those who had excess garden produce — tomatoes, beets, carrots — brought it by to share with the crowd. Others dropped off bags and boxes to ensure those who didn’t have containers had something to cart their potatoes home in. One young family stopped by to get their spuds, then stayed to help others gather theirs.

Inadvertently, the event also offered an opportunity to agvocate (advocate for agriculture) and engage in farm to food discussions. The young ones in the crowd often opened up the best conversations. “Why are the potatoes dirty?” “How come there are so many different shapes and sizes” “Why are you giving them away?”        So discussions ensued on food waste, what happens to produce before you find it on your store shelves, and why it feels good to give back when you can.

Mark & Yanara Peters pausing for a photo as their Community Potato Give-Away drew to a close.

After last year’s giveaway, there was no doubt in the Peters’ minds that if given a successful crop, they would share again. This year, my husband and I were fortunate to be able to help and found out first-hand just why. Besides the stories, memories and agvocating, the gratitude expressed by those who came by was truly heart-warming. While some merely thanked you with a shy smile, others wanted to shake the farmer’s hand. Coffee and snacks were dropped off. One gentleman pressed a few coins into Peters hand, insisting he buy himself a coffee despite Peters repeating it was not necessary.

But the most touching moment for me was a grandmother, who put her hand on her heart,              looked Mark in the eye and expressed her deep appreciation, saying, “You don’t know what this means to us.” Then she reached across the conveyor and embraced Yanara in a hug.

If you’re going to build community, this is way to do it, face-to-face and heart-to-heart.

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A voice at the table

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Minister Morneau,

Our family lives, farms and does business in south-central Manitoba. Like many who live in rural Canada, we strongly believe in supporting local businesses and professionals in our communities. Why? Not only because they are our neighbours, but because they support us.

They provide jobs for those who need off-farm income, for students and many others in our small towns. The service they give often goes above and beyond, because they know us so well. Local businesses and professionals support sports teams, school music programs, local fund-raising projects and refugee families; provide scholarships and bursaries to graduates; donate to community and hospital foundations and numerous charities. When a fellow citizen is in need they step up to the plate to help in whatever way they can. As with farmers, giving back is not done because it is expected but because it fills needs, builds a stronger community and many will say, “Because it is the right thing to do.”

Will your government step in to fill the void when their contributions are no longer possible because of your proposed 73% crippling tax rate, and an inability, or desire, to take on the risk of owning a business?  Your government committed to providing new opportunities for small business to grow. Please explain how that will be accomplished with your “Tax Planning Using Private Corporations”?

In Canada, 85% of businesses are small to mid-size, and of those, 55% are incorporated. Many do so for the same reasons as our family farm – succession planning, building a retirement, paying down debt and saving to grow our business. We are not using loopholes. We are following the existing set tax structure and rules. In order to survive, and have lending institutions provide us with financing, we must make a profit, which in turn fuels the local economy. We cannot succeed on a perpetual and ever-growing deficit.

Operating a business, making that decision to be your own boss and employ others, requires significant financial investment, time commitment, grit and determination. Like farmers, self-employed entrepreneurs have no employee benefits (employment insurance, retirement plans, sick or vacation pay, vacation pay, maternity/paternity leave etc). Their businesses too, are often passed on from generation to generation. Others may mentor employees, who are interested in taking over the reins, to ensure that business stays in the community.

But if your proposal goes through, why would anyone want to take the risk? It would be simpler and more advantageous to be a wage-earning employee. But who will provide employment? How does this new tax structure encourage the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to stay in Canada? And who will be left to support our communities?

Minister Morneau, with your proposed tax changes, I am not only concerned for the viability and future for our family farm, but also for that of the business owners and professionals in my community. We are not the wealthy 1%. We are the hard-working, dedicated, middle-class — the very ones your government claims to be ‘protecting’. But double taxation, changes to capital gains, income splitting, passive income and estate taxes (up to 90%) will dramatically increase our overall tax burden. We are not against taxation, but believe it should be reasonable and the tax dollars you collect from us spent responsibly.

The changes you are proposing are the most sweeping to business taxes in 50 years, yet you are only allowing a brief 75 day consultation period, which ends October 2nd.

Chambers of commerce and agriculture organizations, along with a host of individuals across the country are requesting an extension. Why not let them have a voice at the table? Clarify what the changes entail. If we are misinformed, and our certified profession accountants and their firms are misinterpreting the intent of your reform, why not extend the deadline? Let’s have a broader, thoughtful discussion with everyone concerned. Closely examine at the short and long-term implications for individuals, families, businesses, professionals, their communities and our country.