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How can we grow more farmers in Atlantic Canada?

You may have seen headlines, maybe you read an article, but there is a stark and looming fact that is in need of your attention: Canada needs more farmers.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in less than ten years 75% of existing Canadian farmers are going to reach retirement age, with limited options of replacement or opportunities for land succession. As Emily Van Halem addresses in her examination, this reality presents some very pressing questions:

Who will grow our food?

Will we become totally dependent on large-scale industrial farms and imported food?

Are we comfortable with relying on imported food, and thus imported labour?

What implications will this have for the social and economic identities of our rural communities?

The questions go on…....

 

Times have changed, and the stigma that emerged in the industrial age, fueling  negative perceptions of farming as unappealing and/or unprofitable, is seeing a sea change–particularly for those working in the organic sector. From technological advances linking growers and free agricultural resources, to emerging university courses and programs addressing food politics and sovereignty (combined with skyrocketing sales for organically grown products encouraging more farmers to grow organic), it would appear that these above concerns are on peoples’ minds, and furthermore, that changes are underway. 

And still, the common wonder is: how can you make a difference?

A primary answer is one I learned myself: grow food.

Plain and simple. Whether you plant a small garden, contribute to a community green-space, or have broader, long-standing ambitions to farm, start somewhere.

Food production, and arguably organic food production (i.e. food free from chemicals and genetic engineering), is important and undoubtedly necessary work (we all require three meals a day, right?).  So if you like working outdoors, contributing to your local communities, being your own boss, and therefore developing your very own business, then hey! farming may be right for you.

And thankfully, learning from the best is also more accessible than ever before.

Right now, we have an incredible team of over two-dozen established and successful organic growers based here in the Atlantic region, keen and willing to pass on their knowledge and skills to future farmers. This group has been integral in developing  the mission and goals of ACORN’s new Grow A Farmer programs to promote organic farming as “a viable and empowering form of livelihood.”

The platform is to establish and increase mutually beneficial relationships between beginner and experienced organic farmers, as well as to provide and encourage knowledge transfer and skill-building opportunities. We are striving to provide far more than just on-farm experience, offering a dynamic mix of formal and experiential education, as well as community-building opportunities to increase the capacity and strength of our future food-providers. Maybe you’re one of them?

There is a curriculum guide, there are work-parties, there are farm tours, and more.

Whether you choose to take this route, or whether you are content to maintain a small but steady supply of homegrown food, we fully salute your efforts – but first, just get your hands in the soil.

-Lucia

Lucia Stephen is an aspiring farmer, food activist and Program Coordinator for the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network’s Grow A Farmer Apprenticeship and Mentorship Programs. If you are interesting in applying for these programs, please do so soon! For more information visit www.growafarmer.ca, or email lucia@acornorganic.org.

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