BY ASHLEY THOMPSON
The Hants Journal
From early morning feedings to general meetings, Beth Densmore is one busy farmer —and president.
The newly-elected president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture (NSFA) is the first woman to rise to the top in the 115-year-old organization. Densmore admits she “feels the pressure” being the first female leader of a group often misconstrued as an “all boys’ club,” but she’s optimistic her passion for farming - and experience in the field - will help the NSFA work toward its goal of achieving a sustainable agricultural industry throughout the province.
On her family-operated farm in East Noel, Densmore has dabbled in horticulture, worked in dairy production for about 20 years and, now, she’s trying something a bit different: she’s herding sheep with help from her dog, Chance, and growing red grapes for wineries after getting started with helpful tips from owners of the award-winning Sainte-Famille Wines in Falmouth.
Densmore describes the switch from dairy to sheep as a learning process, particularly during her first lambing season, when she discovered firsthand just how different “finicky” newborn lambs are compared to calves.
“With lambs, if they get cold and they don’t get that first colostrum, you’re going to have to do some tending,” says Densmore, adding dealing with sheep has given her a new lease on life.
“There’s just something about them that always brings a smile to my face.”
Densmore, who served on Hants County’s Federation of Agriculture for six years, says neighbouring farmers made themselves available 24/7 to help her make the transition.
“It’s that farming personality that you want to do whatever you can to help your fellow farmer.
“If you’ve got an issue, farmers will normally be there for other farmers.”
The NSFA represents 2,300 registered farmers producing 25 commodities across the province. Densmore is pressuring the provincial government to put a food policy in place that forces retailers to support local producers when the supply is there, and turn to imported goods when supplies are low.
She says domestic producers will step up if the demand is there, and consumers will have access to goods they know met strict nutritional guidelines before making it to market.
“There’s a lot of criteria in place in order to get that food out the door (in Canada). Other countries use different chemicals that Canada doesn’t allow across the border.”
Densmore says the consumers pulled through this summer when asked by the federation to meet their local farmers, and ask where the meat and veggies in the grocery stores came from. But, she says, the consumers shouldn’t have to advocate to get locally-grown produce in their stores: it should already be available at a fair price - for both consumers and producers.
“To keep the pressure on, that’s asking a lot of consumers. It should be policy, it should automatically be in place.”
Hants West MLA Chuck Porter, the Conservative party’s agricultural critic, says the government “needs to take action” to get farmers back on their feet.
If you support Nova Scotia, you’re supporting yourself. - Beth Densmore
“Farmers do not want to be dependent on government funds and taxpayer dollars to support them, but they need help to get where they need to be, to get this industry back in shape,” says Porter, who attended the NSFA’s annual meeting in Truro Nov. 25 where Densmore was elected.
Porter says recent announcements by Minister of Agriculture John MacDonell, reveal an empty 10-year plan for agriculture that disappoints many members of the province’s farm community.
Speaking of the Homegrown Success magazine detailing the 10-year strategy, Porter says, “it’s a great history lesson, but it does not describe any initiative that the government puts forward, funding-wise or support-wise; there’s nothing there. Government needs to step up to the plate and say ‘how can we help you to get this thing off the ground?’”
Densmore, on the other hand, says, if the government of Nova Scotia puts a food policy in place to get local produce on the shelves, the rural economy will grow stronger, taxes could be lowered and people could see all aspects of Nova Scotia’s agricultural industry thrive again.
“You have to wonder when the reality is going to come that we need these producers,” she says.
“If you support Nova Scotia, you’re supporting yourself, but I don’t think that is seen yet.”