Laird, Elmer (1924-)

Elmer Laird has played an important role in Saskatchewan organic agriculture and environmental issues since the early 1970s. Born in the Swift Current area in 1924, Laird grew up on a family farm and endured the 1930s dustbowl and Depression era. After serving in the RCAF in World War II, he purchased land near Davidson in 1947 and began to farm. From 1952 to 1964, Laird was director of the Saskatchewan Farm Union District 10. In 1964, through External Aid, a federal government agency, Laird participated in an agricultural study in Ghana and Nigeria. Throughout the 1960s, he chaired the Provincial Policy Organization for the South Saskatchewan Irrigation Project. Low grain prices in 1969 prompted him to give up chemical use on his farm in order to save on input costs: this marked his conversion to organic agriculture. That same year, Laird married Gladys McKay, originally from Strasbourg. To encourage organic farming, study legal policies and exchange information, Elmer, Gladys and other National Farmers Union members in 1973 established the Back to the Farm Research Foundation. Gladys, a research librarian, environmentalist and advocate of organic farming, made major contributions to the Foundation's projects and worked with her husband until her death on November 15, 1999.

In 1983, Laird and his wife were instrumental in founding the Canadian Organic Producers' Marketing Co-op Ltd. in Girvin - the first certified organic producers co-operative that milled flour, and sold grain, oil seeds and legumes in Canada, the USA and Europe. In 2001, Laird retired from farming and leased his land to the Back to the Farm Research Foundation, which established an organic research and demonstration farm, the first of its kind in Canada, with Laird as manager. Laird continues to work with fellow activists to prevent transnational corporations from taking over the family farm, expose government policies which support chemical-intensive agriculture, and eliminate the use of GMO seed. Laird was a pioneer in his support of environmental protection and chemical-free agriculture, and his untiring efforts have helped establish many people in organic farming.

Raymond P. Ambrosi