The global stats on the increasing age of farmers are worrying. We face a crisis of renewal in agriculture within the next ten years, a crisis that will bring disintegration of rural communities and the stewardship of our farmlands in tow.

Over the last two decades, it seems the disincentives and challenges facing new farmers have become overwhelming and prohibitive. New farmers face issues of access to land, lack of capital and the bitter truth that the farming methods with the most promise of financial return are often ecologically harmful, large scale and create anything but a romantic attachment to the land.

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This lack of new farmers does not however translate to a general lack of desire to farm. This week’s resource is a model that we hope to see replicated around the globe, one which acknowledges that along with challenges, farming brings opportunities and innovative ways of thinking that can help us to confront head on the structural, economic and practical barriers to farm access.

Working predominantly with New Canadians, young people from non-farm backgrounds and second career farmers, Ontario based charitable organisation, FarmStart help these groups to farm ecologically by providing farmer-to-farmer training programs, access to land and, most importantly, support through their Start-up Farm incubator.

“We want to see a new generation of farmers: young farmers, new farmers and more farmers”

Aspiring farmers are offered a small bit of land, a quarter acre, on one of FarmStart’s near-urban farms to try their hand with different crops and ideas over the course of twelve months. This they call the ‘test-cropper’ stage. Both parties willing, the fledgling farmer is then given one acre of land the following year. More land may be offered as time goes on.

Beekeepers

But land alone does not a farmer make. FarmStart also organise training opportunities, equipment, machinery and mentorship in order to help these farmers start-up their own enterprise. Training comes in the form of workshops, farm tours and courses which cover the spectrum from production to business planning, and leave them well equipped to execute their own marketing strategies and financial plans. The Start-Up Farm model is such that farmers leave within a six year period to allow other farmers to experience the same opportunities that they did.

“The FarmStart mission is to facilitate, support and encourage a new generation of farmers to develop economically viable, locally based, and ecological agricultural enterprises”

It doesn’t matter if you’re not in Canada, neither are we, the site is still resource rich and well worth a visit. There’s a Tool Shed Blog where you can get the dirt from experienced farmers, and an abundance of information to help you with every aspect of entering farming, no matter where in the world you may be.

Resources for new farmers include:

New farmers need to be imaginative and hard-working if they are going to succeed, and, although FarmStart cannot promise to make farming easy, they do make the road to a farming dream accessible, a little less risky and a lot less lonely.

  • To Apply: Applications for the Earth to Table Start-Up Farm are now open and will be accepted until 15th December, 2014.
  • Prerequisite Course: Digging into Farming: Planning Your New Farm Business 22nd & 29th November
    Digging Into Farming is a prerequisite course for those entering the Start Up Farm program 
    The Digging into Farming Course is intended for prospective farmers who are ready to stop dreaming and start developing realistic goals, clarify their farm vision, evaluate their options, and to begin identifying the resources and knowledge they already have and those they need to acquire. You will come out of this course with a greater understanding of the different assets, skills and resources needed to launch a new farm business, access to a range of available resources and learning opportunities, a broader peer group, as well as connections to local and technical coaches, mentors and advisers.

Featured image by Steenbergs, in text images from FarmStart

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