Jenn Pfenning, family co-owner of Pfenning’s Organics farm near New Hamburg, has been elected as president of the National Farmers Union (NFU).
The vote was held at the organization’s convention in Saskatoon November 24-26.
The NFU is a farm organization focused on family farms, agroecology and food sovereignty. It was founded in 1969 when the Saskatchewan Farmers Union, the Ontario Farmers Union, the Farmers Union of British Columbia, the Farmers Union of Alberta and Maritime farmers joined together.
Pfenning says she was nominated by the outgoing president.
“I think that the NFU policies, advocacy and the way we’ve developed policies and issues is critically important and that is something I’m going to work to make heard in more spaces,” she said.
Pfenning says it was the previous experience of being nominated for women’s president at the NFU that opened the door for her to become involved in leadership at community and national levels.
“I quickly learned how much I enjoyed talking about things that matter to farmers and rural communities.”
Pfenning said the main issues she wants to tackle include environment, climate change, mental health for farmers, and other social justice issues. She wants to connect with members and leadership across the country and listen to how they need to be heard, as well as find ways to work together with other farming organizations in the country.
“We’re facing climate change impacts as farmers. In many ways we are a frontline for that. We see it in how we farm.
“So policies that I will be working to act on as president is to ensure that the government is coming to the table with regulations that support our ability to adapt to climate change, and mitigate our own impacts on the environment that are driving climate change,” she said.
“We have to grow food. Everybody has to eat. And how do we create frameworks that support our ability to continue to do that, in the face of climate change? How do we get the government to understand what it is we need in order to face that challenge?”
She also wants to help with farmers’ mental health.
“It’s been said that it’s a hidden crisis,” she said. “Each section of society has its own unique challenges,” she said. “I understand the farming ones specifically because I am a farmer.”
Mara Shaw is the executive director of the National Farmers Union. She says Pfenning has been a member with the NFU for at least 20 years and has shown leadership in the organization, recently as chair of the Migrant Worker Solidarity Working Group, where she was “advocating for better conditions and a path to citizenship for Canada’s foreign agricultural workers.”
Pfenning is no stranger to public service, having sat as councillor for Wilmot Township from 2018 to 2022.
She currently sits on the Wilmot Trails Advisory Committee and helped create the Baden Hills trails. She also was a member of the Sustainability Working Group, volunteers to plant trees with Let’s Tree Wilmot, volunteers with the Family Resource Centre, is a member of the Wilmot Horticultural Society, and other Wilmot groups.
She is heavily involved with advocating on a national and local level for migrant workers’ rights as the Canadian representative on the Migration Collective for La Via Campesina, International Peasant’s Movement, chair of the Migrant Worker’s Solidarity Working Group for the National Farmers Union.
She is also involved with the Organic Council of Ontario and the Food System Roundtable of Waterloo Region.
Pfenning addressed the concept of burnout. She’s had to learn how to say no, but she also says she feels fueled by working to make her community better.
“I get something from doing the work. I personally have a deep need to serve my community and I have done that in various ways over the years.
“It’s been about not being able to stay quiet. And if I can’t stay quiet, finding a place to make that voice useful is important,” she said. “Things that are worth doing are rarely easy. Because I care so much about where the world is going, and what’s happening around me, even if it sometimes feels like screaming into a hurricane.”
Shaw says the NFU’s upcoming priorities include “advocating for farmers’ ability to make a good living from their work despite the multinational corporate profiteering in many sectors of agriculture.”
She also mentioned advancing climate solutions that are farmer-led and able to be implemented, advocating for funding for farmers as they try out new farming approaches and techniques to meet climate goals, fighting for farmers’ rights to save seed, pushing for government oversight of genetically-modified plants and advocating for equity and inclusion in Canadian agriculture.
For Pfenning, environment is top of mind for her and every NFU member across the country as well as social justice because in her mind, it underpins all of the other work.
“We can’t come close to addressing climate change without addressing the injustice and inequality,” she said.