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Growing Farmers

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Issue: 69 Section: Agriculture Geography: Atlantic Tatamagouche Topics: environment, food, farming, Youth

March 17, 2010

Growing Farmers

Canada needs policies to support young farmers: NFUY

by Hillary Bain Lindsay

Young farmers from across Canada say the current industrial food model needs to change. Photo: Cammie Harbottle

HALIFAX—"Between 1991 and 2006 the number of farmers under 35 years old decreased by over 60 per cent," said Kalissa Regier, a 31-year-old organic grain farmer.

That's a trend that Regier and other young farmers, who gathered in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, over the first weekend of March, are hoping to change.

Regier, President of the National Farmers Union Youth (NFUY), flew in from her farm in Saskatchewan to join a dozen other young farmers (some aspiring, most already farming) from across the country in a NFUY workshop and training weekend.

The barriers to young farmers are huge, said Regier, and the global industrial food system makes it difficult for farmers to sell their product at a fair price. The NFUY, the youth arm of the National Farmers Union, is committed to building a different kind of food system, one that is socially just, locally focused and economically viable for family farms.

The group's Campaign for New Farmers—a focus over the weekend—aims to increase the number of farmers in Canada.

To start farming you need access to land and equipment, said Cammie Harbottle, a 28-year-old vegetable farmer and Vice President of the NFUY. She said many young farmers have difficulty finding a bank willing to lend them money for start-up costs. Harbottle, who farmed for six years in British Colombia and is entering her second season in Colchester County, is having difficulty securing capital to build the packing shed she needs in order to wash and pack her vegetables for market.

Tyrel Murray, who has been farming for three years with his brother Chad on family land in Pictou County, faces similar challenges. The Murrays need infrastructure, specifically greenhouses and barn space, but lack the capital to take their operation to the next level.

Advocating for policies that support young farmers—like policies that provide access to capital—is just one of the aims of the Campaign for New Farmers, said Harbottle.

In the meantime, and despite the odds, the young farmers who crowded into a room at the Tatamagouche Centre are choosing to farm, and to feed their communities.

Regier will return home to plant more than 1,000 acres of grain in Saskatchewan. The Murrays have started a farmers market in New Glasgow that is gaining momentum and popularity. Harbottle has begun seeding in her greenhouse and plans to expand her markets in Halifax and Tatamagouche.

When asked why she farms, Harbottle didn't hesitate.

"Because I love it and it makes sense to me," she said.  "It's always made sense to me to grow food. We need to show people how to grow food and how to connect with their food at the local level."

In a profession that Murray described as "working like hell and not making much money," the feeling of optimism and enthusiasm among the young farmers is difficult to ignore.

"There's been a shift in the current," said Murray. "A shift in the thinking [about local food], enough to lead me to believe that it could be a healthy industry again."

Hillary Bain Lindsay is coordinator with the Halifax Media Co-op and a member of the National Farmers Union.

An original version of this article was published by the Halifax Media Co-op.

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