A good deal of success on the farm stems from individual effort and ability.
Management consultants routinely list any number of attributes as being important to success, including management capabilities, husbandry skills, marketing acumen, a good sense of timing and independence. But individual effort is not the only ingredient for success on the farm.
The other aspect that we often do not hear enough about is the “common good.” In essence, it means that each of us depends upon the efforts of others in order to succeed and thrive. Although the notion of the self-made man is alive and well in our society, it needs to be counterbalanced by the equally important notion that we are undergirded by institutions and approaches that take our common nature into account and which serve as a foundation for our own individual efforts.
One institution that rightly stresses the common good is the Catholic Church. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI recently cited the notion of the common good in the development of economies and noted that it alone gives meaning to economic progress.
Although I’m a Protestant, I find myself in fundamental agreement with Benedict’s emphasis on the common good, and find it helpful in thinking through positive future options for farmers.
To quote Pope Benedict, “the common good is the end that gives meaning to progress and to development, which otherwise would be limited to the sole production of material goods. Progress and development are necessary, but if they are not oriented to the common good, they lead to the negative consequences of the prevalence of consumerism, waste, poverty, and excess.”
Although we don’t often think about it in agricultural circles, a little reflection shows that the success of farming is built upon a commitment to the common good. In Ontario, agriculture continues to have its struggles but its continuing success is built upon a commitment to marketing legislation, safety net programs, cooperative education, various forms of extension, and a number of other factors. Those programs and approaches are all dedicated to building the province’s common good and benefit all citizens, directly or indirectly.
Looking forward, if we want to continue to build upon the notion of the common good in farming, we have to stress the continuing need for the development of a national food policy that helps establish a better playing field for farmers, processors, retailers and consumers.
Having such a policy gives direction and helps build and coordinate all the players in serving the common good. And from that platform, each individual can apply all his abilities and talents in the pursuit of his own success.
John Clement is the general manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario.