Climate Legacy Interview of the Month: Tony McQuail and the EFAO

Every month, Climate Legacy chats with a network member to hear their story and what inspired their climate action.

The Ecological Farmers of Ontario is one of Climate Legacy’s newest member groups. Founded in 1979, the EFAO is dedicated to helping farmers build resilient, ecological farms.   

Tony McQuail is a founding member of the organization. He has been working on farms since 1970 and has dedicated much of his life to sustainable farming techniques, from regenerative soil management to using less fossil fuel-based farming equipment.   

Tony McQuail and his horses on the family farm

Climate Legacy recently chatted on the phone with Tony to hear about how he got involved in climate action, what EFAO is doing now, and how Canadians’ food choices can make a difference to our environment.   

CL: Tell me about some of the projects EFAO is working on right now?   

TM: There’s a couple I want to talk about. EFAO was a founding member of Farmers for Climate Solutions. They produced a report recently that looked at what you could put in the current federal budget to sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, like using less nitrogen, normalizing rotational grazing and protecting wetlands and trees on farms. These are creative things that would be very low cost with big impacts.  Currently, much of agriculture is part of the climate change problem, but, with regenerative practices, it can be part of the solution. 

EFAO also has a farmer-led research program. Members will identify a research question they’d like to look into and then you have research at a field or commercial garden-scale being done by farmers. The whole idea is having research that is applicable and answers real questions people have.   

CL: What is something you would say to an older Canadian who’s interested in getting involved in climate initiatives, but isn’t sure where to start?   

TM: What I would say to all Canadians, including older Canadians is that you make choices about the environment probably three times a day. Every time you put food in your mouth, you’re making a choice. Are you eating food grown in a way that degrades the soil and releases CO2, or are your food choices helping sequester carbon by regenerative farming practices? You are making that decision every day by where you are shopping and who you are buying from in the industry (You can find a directory of all EFAO farms here). 

The other thing is, connect with people in your community who share this concern.  Working together with others encourages you and multiplies your impact. Personal choices, municipal choices, workplace and recreation choices all have impacts.  For some, we can reduce the damage being done to the environment and climate, for others we can start the healing.   

CL: What got you to take action on climate change?   

TM: I’ve been an environmentalist for a long time…In a sense it was the 1973 Arab oil embargo. But an even earlier formative event was when I was arguing with my dad that we should get a fancier car, and he explained that fossil fuels are a finite resource. The purpose of a car was to get us from A to B, not to impress the neighbours.   

CL: How did you get involved with EFAO?   

In the ‘70s I was a young farmer, and my wife and I decided we wanted to make the switch to more ecological agriculture. There was very little information. So, a few of us who were interested in organic and more ecological systems somehow got connected, and in 1979 we formed the Natural Farmer’s Association. A few years later we decided to rename it EFAO.   

CL: So, you’re one of the original members.  

TM: I’ve served in probably every executive position. I’ve licked some stamps and helped write some newsletters over the years.   

The whole idea of EFAO was for people to share with each other, doing farm tours, sharing their successes and their mistakes, to look after our land and environment but also our farms and production.   

It’s wonderful to see how the organization has grown. With most farmer organizations, I’m part of the median age group, but in the EFAO right now there’s an incredible amount of youth and energy and interest. We’ve got some elders, but we’ve got all this youthful enthusiasm too. 

CL: What inspired you to become a farmer?   

TM: I got involved in farming because producing food seemed like one of the most important things you could do in a society. If you don’t have enough food, you don’t have a society for very long.  

Learn more about EFAO’s programs and resources here.

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