Weekend Viewing – The Back Breaking Leaf

When my dad’s family first came to Canada shortly after WWII, they settled on a farm in Norfolk County, just north of Lake Erie in southern Ontario. The land they bought was linked to a tobacco quota, which licensed them to grow tobacco and get a fair price for it. Tobacco grew well on the sandy soil and was a major part of the economic foundation of the whole county for most of the past century.

I’m not supported, nor ever was, by tobacco farming (my dad’s family moved into vegetables when he was a teenager), but a lot of people I went to school with were, or else worked in “harvest” pushing the beginning of the high-school year back a few weeks.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how we use our farmland for the things that get the highest price, which is often not food. It continually puts farmers in a tough position when they have to make a choice for their land to support their families.

The boom days of Ontario tobacco are long gone and lots of farmers have been forced to make some hard decisions. I know of a local farm, Round Plains Plantation, that has since moved into growing sweet potatoes, which they sell at our farmer’s market, as well as at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. It is nice to be able to actually eat something from land that is finally producing food.

Norfolk County doesn’t have the storied food culture that other counties in Ontario have–I can’t help but think that tobacco (and most recently, ginseng) have slowed it down–but I’m beginning to see signs of it catching up.

http://www.nfb.ca/film/The_Back-breaking_Leaf/embed/player

If you’re on an Apple device, you can download the NFB’s app here.

2 comments

  • It's funny you bring this up-I was just speaking to a co worker yesterday about working tobacco farms as a teenager and how well it paid. She grew up in Delhi, I grew up in Sarnia where it was corn detasseling that gave a lot of us summer jobs. Both jobs were great money for that time but rather horrible and somewhat dangerous in retrospect and a good reminder that life on a farm isn't always the paradise we picture it as.

  • It seems our father's share a similar story. The the only part that deviates is that my Oma & Opa farmed tobacco until their retirement. :-) I have fond memories of attending dances at the German Hall in Delhi!

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