A key participant in a number of high-profile advocacy campaigns of the National Farmers Union (NFU), Howe Island organic dairy farmer Peter Dowling, passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 6.
Dowling, survived by his wife Dianne and children Patrick, Emily and Tim, had been living with Parkinson’s for a number of years but passed away from an unrelated ailment, peacefully at home.
He was a graduate of University of Guelph’s Bachelor’s of Agriculture program in 1973 and worked briefly in extension for the provincial ministry of agriculture. He only found his voice — a voice short on volume, Dowling’s compatriots are fond of noting, but long on passion and determination — after coming home to the family farm and following the path of his parents into the NFU.
“As a farm organization with a long history, it is inevitable that sometimes we have to say goodbye to our beloved leaders,” wrote NFU Ontario Region General Manager Sarah Bakker in a tribute article, set to be published in an upcoming edition of the nationally distributed Union Quarterly. And from a post on the NFU-O Facebook page: “Peter knew what he believed in… and why. He practiced what he preached (though he was a most un-preachy person himself). He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”
His parents, John and Joyce, were founding NFU members in 1969. Peter, taking up their enthusiasm, soon placed himself amid discussions about issues that at times set the NFU apart from other major Canadian farm organizations. He passionately opposed the introduction of recombinant bovine growth hormone, and held a place in his heart for the effects of Canadian agricultural policy on a global scale.
Eric Chaurette, program manager at Ottawa-based international cooperation agency Inter Pares, contributed to the Union Quarterly tribute article. “I got to know him in the early days of the Food Security Policy Group, where he represented the NFU on this coalition made up mostly of international development organizations. I remember him commenting to the coalition members during a meeting, ‘We are all speaking about agriculture, but I seem to be the only farmer in the room.’ He helped to keep things real.”
Dowling was also known for agricultural advocacy close to home. He contributed to the Kingston area’s Food Down the Road initiative and, along with the ringleader, his wife Dianne, to the Save Our Prison Farm movement.
St. Marys-area farmer Ann Slater, who served between 2003-13 alongside Dowling on the NFU’s Ontario Regional Council, writes in the Union Quarterly tribute about the seemingly endless time given to the farm organization. “I always wondered if Peter’s cows milked themselves.”
He had a way of thinking and speaking, Chaurette writes, “with tact and a twist of irony that made one smile, pause, and think.” Slater recalls those same qualities in particular detail: during several instalments of one contentious Regional Council discussion, “Peter’s emails started to end with ‘an onion’ – meaning we were once again dealing with layers of NFU smelly, slimy stuff.”
Perhaps most fondly, however, Dowling is being remembered for inspiring a next generation of farmers and advocates of farm and food policy. “I saw him as a nurturer,” said fellow Kingston-area organic dairy farmer and NFU Local leader Andrea Cumpson, in a tribute article published in the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper.
Donations in Peter Dowling’s memory can be made to the National Farmers Foundation, Howe Island Fire & Rescue (via Township of Frontenac Islands), or the Kingston Chapter of Parkinson’s Canada.