Agriculture and technology, the Hutterite existential dilemma

Like every lunch hour, in White Lake Colony, south of Lethbridge, the entire community comes together to eat in the refectory. The room is divided into two parts, women on the left, men on the right.

Everyone knows their job. They cook and wash dishes. They have lunch and then go to work. The clothes are made on site and the meals are prepared with products from their farm.

More than 80 people live in row houses and are part of 19 Anabaptist Christian families whose main language is German.

They are uniquesays John Lehr, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Winnipeg, who has studied about 40 colonies. It is the longest living community in the world.

Some localities allow only their officials to use smartphones. Others, more progressive, give it to teenagers from the age of 15. Internet access is then very limited.

Photo: Radio Canada/Axel Tardieu

Land first

Following the commandments of their religion, dating back to the 16th century.e century, all Hutterites live in community, isolated from the world, have only a public bank account and are engaged in one main occupation: agriculture.

David Hofer, secretary and treasurer of the colony, is among the senior members eligible for an all-terrain vehicle for mobility. Wheat, potatoes, pigs or chickens: the farm covers 8,000 hectares.

If their clothes seem ancient, then their tractors and harvesters are in line with the latest trends.

These days it is impossible to run a farm without a computer or phone. This helps us better understand the state of our lands and communicate easily with each other if there is a problem on the other side of the colony.explains David Hofer.

Cows in a Hutterite colony on White Lake in Alberta on July 6, 2022.

The White Lake colony occupies 8,000 hectares.

Photo: Radio Canada/Axel Tardieu

They may want to live outside of society, but their agricultural activities are linked to the world market. Their potatoes end up in Korea and in McDonald’s. Their chickens and pigs are sold in major grocery stores. They also experience the same difficulties as other farmers.

We must work harder than before and diversifysays David Hofer. His colony began cultivating corn and lentils to offset rising prices for fertilizer, gasoline, and electricity.

According to Simon Evans, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Calgary, Simon Evans, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Calgary, who wrote a 2019 paper on the importance of the Hutterites, despite their business having fallen 15% in 10 years, in the financial regards this community is doing well. in agriculture.

Colonies on your plate

Hutterite agriculture in Alberta is thriving. This trend is expected to continue over the next two decades. Settlements will become more and they will be largerwrites Simon Evans.

According to provincial agri-food organizations, Hutterites produce 80% of Alberta’s eggs, 40% of pork, 25% of milk, and 20% of chicken.

% de la population, mais ils ont plus de 4% des terres cultivables”,”text”:”Les huttérites ne représentent qu’une fraction de 1% de la population, mais ils ont plus de 4% des terres cultivables”}}”>The Hutterites make up only part of the 1% of the population, but they own over 4% of the agricultural land.says Ian MacLachlan, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Lethbridge. They are very successful in running the agricultural business.

Success Secrets

One of the reasons for this success is their unique work. From the age of 15, Hutterites in Alberta leave school and go to work. No one receives a salary, but everyone is fed, clothed and housed for free until death.

They work for the good of their society and for the glory of God. Everyone’s respect is earned by a work ethic. It’s an efficient, dedicated and flexible workforceexplains John Lehr.

We are like a big familyexplains Peter Hofer, head of the potato farm. : faire vivre nos enfants et la colonie.”,”text”:”Je n’ai connu que l’agriculture dans ma vie, mais j’adore ça. Nous travaillons tous dans un seul but commun: faire vivre nos enfants et la colonie.”}}”>I have only known agriculture in my life, but I love it. We are all working towards one common goal: to support our children and the colony.

A Hutterite family outside their home in White Lake Colony, Alberta on July 6, 2022.

Strictly following the Ten Commandments, the Hutterites do not like to be photographed. They avoid idolatry.

Photo: Radio Canada/Axel Tardieu

This workforce does not take holidays, does not belong to trade unions and is out of sight of the authorities.Employment standardsan organization responsible for labor conditions in Alberta.

this is not free worksays David Hofer. ans.”,”text”:”On s’occupe d’eux, on leur construit des logements. Les maisons coûtent plus cher à construire qu’il y a 10ans.”}}”>We take care of them, we build housing for them. Houses are worth more than 10 years ago.

Are they therefore more profitable than other farms? No, according to Scott Dickson, an accountant for nearly 280 colonies in the country at MNP. He points out that Hutterites should always save money to start new communities. When a colony reaches 150 inhabitants, another is normally created to accommodate half of them.

Like all farms profit decreases over timeScott Dixon says % à 4% les bonnes années.”,”text”:”Les terres deviennent plus chères à acheter. Leur retour sur investissement est bas, de 2% à 4% les bonnes années.”}}”>Land becomes more expensive to buy. Their ROI is low, between 2% and 4% in good years.

Danger in the meadow

To compete, colonies invest heavily in upgraded tractors, a necessary evil. According to John Hofer, pastor and leader of the White Lake Colony, the presence of computers and the Internet in some colonies does not bode well for their future.

I am very afraid of the excesses that technology can have on our youth. The devil hides there and tries to keep them out of our way of life, but I pray every day to protect them.– said the patriarch.

John Hofer, Pastor of the White Lake Colony, July 6, 2022

At 85, John Hofer is proud to belong to a religious group that still exists despite the persecution he endured in Europe and the United States prior to immigrating from the United States to Canada in 1918.

Photo: Radio Canada/Axel Tardieu

David Hofer, his son, shares this fear. Young people can spend too much time there and find anything there instead of working in the fields. One day technology will rule the worldhe is afraid of.

Nevertheless, the Hutterites have learned to adapt to globalization. Settlements branch out into new industries, such as making expensive doors or windows, sectors that require less land to purchase.

According to Gameo’s Patrick Murphy and’s George Chatter, their numbers continue to grow in Canada, where most of them live. Half of Canada’s 40,000 Hutterites continue their traditions from Alberta.