Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Saskatchewan Environmental Champions

Elmer and Gladys (McKay) Laird

Elmer Laird has been an outspoken champion of organic and family farming since the 1960s. He received national attention for his media-savvy campaigns to draw Canadian's attention to chemical-free farming, including a well-publicized contest to design a grasshopper harvester that would turn a farm pest into a cash crop!

Born in Swift Current in 1924, Laird served in the air force in WWII. After the war, he began farming near Davidson. He was active in the National Farmers Union and traveled to Africa on an agricultural study in 1964.

It was the low grain prices of 1969 that launched Laird in organic farming. His goal was to reduce input costs by eliminating farm chemicals. Also in 1969, he married Gladys McKay. With Gladys support, Elmer became a leader and frequent spokesman for the emerging organic farm movement in Saskatchewan.

Chemical farming is like painting by numbers. Organic farming is striving to be a real artist and accept challenges. - Elmer Laird In 1973, they established The Back To The Farm Research Foundation (BFRF) under the Societies Act and with the sponsorship of the National Farmers Union. Laird became President. The BFRF became well known for its letters and briefs to political leaders and the media, on farm chemicals and alternatives, as well as other environmental issues.

To counter the use of toxic pesticides used to control grasshoppers, Elmer and the BFRF proposed that grasshoppers be harvested and sold as food in countries where they are considered a delicacy. The media was attracted to the grasshopper harvester design competition and Laird became a repeat media guest, including on Peter Gzowski's radio and television programs.

Gladys Laird never worked in the field but supported the BFRF effort doing research, particularly on organic farming. Until she passed away in 1999, she cooked numerous lunches and dinners and baked cookies for the large number of visitors who came to talk about organic farming at the Laid farm.

In 1983, the Lairds were instrumental in founding the Canadian Organic Producer's Marketing Coop in Girvin, near Davidson. It was the first certified organic farmers cooperative that milled flour and marketed grains and oilseeds in North America and abroad.

In 2001, Elmer retired as a farmer and donated the use of his land (640 acres) to the BFRF. It was established as an organic research and demonstration farm, the first of its kind in Canada. The BFRF Board of Directors also made him Farm Manager.

In 2005, the BFRF had ten research plots underway for the purpose of demonstrating the benefits of farming without pesticides and other aspects of organic farming. The Foundation also offers, without charge, consultations and advice on all aspects of organic agriculture.

In 2006, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Saskatchewan Eco-Network and an Organic Visionary Award at the Organic Connections Conference. That year the Saskatchewan government also presented him with a Commemorative Medal for the Centennial of Saskatchewan. The medal recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the province.

Elmer Laird was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2008.

Laird also continues to produce letters and reports designed to stimulate action on a variety of farming and environmental issues.

Elmer Laird and the Back to the Farm Research Foundation operate the first certified organic research farm in Canada near Davidson, SK.

Saskatchewan Environmental Champions
A Compilation of Written Works by Elmer Laird (PDF)

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