People vote either with their wallets or their ballots for people they trust.

People trust farmers. Farmers rank high among the most trusted occupations. So maybe it’s no wonder local food, which farmers produce, has caught on like wildfire. Trusted people producing trusted food. It resonates.

To produce food, farmers need help from society. They need policies that give them the latitude to farm, as well as understanding from their neighbours and support from consumers who appreciate the fact that, in so many ways, cheap doesn’t mean good.

For example, it might be cheaper for farmers to clear woodlots and pay little attention to wildlife on their land. Unsustainable farming practices might be cheaper, too, in the short run. So might disregard for the rural landscape, groundwater and carbon sequestration. But society expects farmers to look after such things. Typically, though, it doesn’t want to pay for them, in the same way it doesn’t really want to pay the true cost of food.

For the past couple of years, politicians have been coming through the Guelph area talking about assembling a national food policy. If its proponents have their way, it would balance farmers’ and consumers’ needs. Shouldn’t we already have such a policy, given how fundamental food is to a nation’s well-being? Absolutely. But we don’t, and organizations such as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture say it’s high time we did.

The federation wants the winner of today’s federal election to consider compensating farmers for what it calls ecological goods and services.  Read about its position in my Urban Cowboy column in the Guelph Mercury.