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Doing Good: John Varty and Molly Daley

Part of our series on farmers and others in agriculture who give ’til it helps: Educating the populace about the realities of farming.

By Melanie Epp

Varty drives the MF1660 with Molly riding the house.

Varty drives the MF1660 with Molly riding the house.

Imagine driving a tractor, and pulling your house behind it, across a country as big as Canada. John Varty and his fiancée, Molly Daley, did and, well, did. They finished the approximately 8,000-kilometer (4,971 miles) trek this fall, all to help educate the general populace about the plight of the Canadian farmer.

As Varty explains, farmers make up less than 2% of the Canadian population. Yet, often policies that greatly affect who they are and what they do are made by the rest of the population. So Varty’s self-described mission is to give farmers the platform to share their stories, via news reports about the journey and a documentary or TV show he and Daley hope to make using footage they shot.

Born and raised in Ontario, Varty was the child of parents with deep farming roots in the eastern part of the province—his father’s side has been actively farming for six generations; his mother’s for four. Yet Varty decided to follow an academic path, eventually pursuing a PhD, focusing on the Canadian grain trade in the 20th century. He’s taught such subjects as history, agricultural trade and commodities at McGill in Montreal, Yale in Cambridge, Mass., and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He’s also written for several Canadian newspapers, often on subjects related to agriculture.

Varty, though, realized something was missing in his life. And after a serious illness “very nearly finished me off,” he says, “I got thinking about things I might do that are a little more adventurous.”

And with that, Tractor Canada was born.

Varty first dreamed of taking his grandad’s Massey Ferguson 35 across the country, but changed plans when he received a donation of a Massey Ferguson 1660 from AGCO Corporation. The compact tractor had more horsepower than the vintage model and would be better suited to pull the tiny house on wheels where he and Daley would live for the nearly 1.5 years they were on the road.

Support was overwhelming, says Varty, as he and Daley finished their trek in mid-September. Starting at Atlantic Tractors and Equipment in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and finishing in Victoria, British Columbia, the couple traveled through nine provinces and collected some 200 hours of video footage, including stories of hard luck, inspiration and more.

“I’ve taught at top-end universities, but all of my family still farms. I think that may put me in a good position to press for a shift in political behavior,” he says. “When you boil it all down, none of these problems are soluble as long as only 1.5% of our population are farmers and, thus, [are the only ones who] vote as farmers. We need to recover part of our past where city people used to think about the crops.”

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Doing Good: A Special Report

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