1000 families project paul sara joah and vivien

1,000 Families Project:
Paul, Sara, Joah and Vivien

He’s a fifth-generation farmer from rural Ontario. She’s from a big city in Ecuador. Here’s the story of the common ground they’ve found in their quest for a more local, sustainable food system for their children and generations to come.

It is funny how you can take simple things for granted for so long in your life and how those things can be unearthed for you. My wife immigrated from Guayaquil, Ecuador, and moved to rural Ontario six years ago when we were married. She came from a country where most food is local and available 365 days a year, thanks to the climate and multiple growing seasons. She had really never thought about food or its availability before moving to our family farm. But upon going to the grocery store in Canada and tasting the produce and products we call food, she had a rude awakening!

I came from a family farm where we grew most of the food we needed, harvested it or processed it as a family. Everyone mostly ate from what I later learned was an ultra-local diet. Canning and preserving were just things we did; growing our own chickens and cattle for our meat sources were what I always knew. But as our family matured and people left the farm, life became more about convenience than nutrition. Our food values and standards were slowly eroding.

It was not until my wife relocated here and we started a family of our own did I realize once again the true value of food and all the knowledge and experience I sat on! I could grow my own carrots, process my own chickens, gather my own eggs. And yet it wasn’t until my wife sampled some of these products when she arrived in Ontario that it hit me the value of this lifestyle.

My wife is an amazing cook now, but when she moved to Canada, she could barely boil water. She did have the amazing benefit of growing up with a mother and grandmother who religiously cooked from scratch and valued nutrition food. But again, it was not until she was distanced from that environment that she realized what gifts she had been given, growing up with a family that truly valued food. She has since learned how to cook many of the dishes from her Ecuadorian culture, and has taught me how to grow foods and ingredients that we in small rural areas have no idea about because of the homogeneity of our communities. She is determined that her culture will not be lost for our children despite her relocation, and it is through the dishes we eat that so much of this is passed on. We appreciate the culture through the food, and have passed down not only these culinary traditions, but the importance of being a steward of the land in planning and planting these diverse ingredients.

This has all had a strange impact on me as a younger farmer and father. It has made me reflect on the fact that (despite all the marketing that goes into this topic), most farmers don’t really grow food for eating any more, and the crops they do grow have long lost their relation to the delicious, nutritious food we can be proud of putting on the dinner table. Corn is no longer grown for things like corn meal, flour and polenta. Wheat is not used for flour, pasta, or beer like it once was, and very few farmers even have edible beans in their rotation. But with my wife’s influence and the renewed connection to our food that her culture has given us, we have once again started to look at all these crops and how we could ensure that they end up on our dinner table, and not just in an ethanol plant. This way of thinking (new for my generation) has given me a sense of pride as a farmer and father, not only to provide nutritious food for my children, but also to teach other Canadians how far our food has strayed from its humble beginnings, and what a unique experience it is to actually taste them again.

It’s been amazing to see what happens when an urban immigrant ends up on a farm in rural Ontario. The lessons we have taught each other have inspired me to show people, through local initiatives, how food can change your life. My hope is to re-educate as many people as my time on earth will allow me!

This is #1000families post number 42. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.

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Paul Spence

About Paul Spence

Paul Spence is a fifth generation farmer from Chatham-Kent, Ontario, who is working toward a farming system that produces 100% food with his wife Sara, who immigrated from Guayaquil, Ecuador, and is still wondering how the heck she ended up in the middle of nowhere. View all posts by

'1,000 Families Project:
Paul, Sara, Joah and Vivien' have 2 comments

  1. Nancy Forde

    November 5, 2014 @ 1:01 pm Nancy Forde

    A fascinating read and, having lived rurally (though not on a working farm), I am very interested in the fact that most farms do not grow food for themselves to eat any longer although now I see a trend to return to this, even in Urban areas where people have begun to garden a bit more in their own wee plots. I have huge challenges feeding my 5 year old healthy food (fruits and vegetables) right now and I am wondering if we shouldn’t start a garden ourselves so that he can learn the value of food/healthy food, locally grown food. I take him to local markets for our food (as well as stores). Sustainable food development and the locally-grown movement is so integral, I think, to the future of our communities’ health. Kudos to your wife for not only relocating so far from her native land, but also ensuring the culture of the food she was raised eating is not lost and will continue with your children. What a beautiful family you all make.


  2. June 21, 2015 @ 12:32 pm The New Family / A Father’s Day Tribute to the Dads of 1,000 Families

    […] Jason Graham wrote this lovely post on how his family life has been impacted by moving to the country, and fifth-generation farmer Paul Spence wrote about the quest for a more local, sustainable food system he shares with his Ecuadorian wife. […]


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