Picture a farmer and one image that might come to mind is of someone who is middle aged, dressed in overalls and rubber boots.
The new generation of farmers however could be young, urban-bred and multicultural.
Ontario is facing some tough challenges in the coming years as the number of farmers under 35 has declined by more than 50 per cent over the last 10 years. The average age of current farmers is 52, and, according to a 2002 study by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, more than three quarters (80 per cent) are planning to sell or transfer their farms in the next decade.
That is not good News, especially in light of Ontario’s growing population and increasing demand for locally grown, ecologically produced, and culturally appropriate fresh produce in regions like southern Ontario.
One solution may be FarmStart, a Guelph-based organization that is working with future farmers such as urban and rural youth, new Canadians, and other individuals who want to start a second career on the land.
“We encourage new farmers to be entrepreneurs, to creatively turn challenges into opportunities,” said Mike Shook, FarmStart’s program manager. “Our projects focus on developing different types of farms including cooperatives. We also encourage our farmers to explore new market opportunities, ecological production methods, innovative business models, and value-added products.”
Early in the program FarmStart identified the lack of farm business management training courses geared to new, small-scale farmers and Canadians wishing to start agricultural enterprises. So in 2007, with $40,000 in funding support from the Agricultural Management Institute (AMI), FarmStart implemented a farm business planning and management training pilot project. The initial course was offered in Toronto and Guelph and attracted 17 prospective farmers.
The Guelph group was made up primarily of Canadian farm interns who examined issues such as cooperative production and marketing approaches. The majority of the Toronto group included new Canadians from Africa who focused on the Canadian farming and food distribution system.
Participants learned how to identify goals, develop production, marketing, and financial plans, and build a business plan to apply to the FarmStart incubator farms program. That valuable theory was rounded out with workshops and farm tours to provide the students with practical tips on planning and running a farm.
“Eventually we hope to offer the course with groups of potential FarmStart applicants, as well as through community colleges, agricultural organizations, and youth groups,” Shook said. “We would also like to make the course modules available to all farmers through our web site.”
Although business management skills are important for all farmers, the needs of new farmers and new Canadians wishing to farm are unique. Peter Vander Zaag, chairman of the AMI, explained.
“Not only are the course participants coming in with little to no knowledge of our agriculture and food system, but the programs must be delivered by facilitators familiar with cross-cultural communications. FarmStart has done a remarkable job of developing and promoting this program.”
To learn more, visit www.farmstart.ca.
from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture