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Growing Farmers

The National Farmers Union Youth say we must increase the number of young farmers in Canada

by Hillary Bain Lindsay

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

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

That's a trend that Regier and other young farmers gathered in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia over the weekend 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, says Regier, and include a global industrial food system that 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, says Regier, one that is economically viable for family farms, socially just and locally focused.

A key focus of the weekend was the group's Campaign for New Farmers; a campaign that aims to increase the number of farmers in Canada. 

In order to start farming, you need access to land and equipment, says Cammie Harbottle, a 28-year-old vegetable farmer and Vice President of the NFUY.  She says 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 vegetable for market.

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

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

In the meantime, and despite the odds, the young farmers crowded into a room at the Tatamagouche Centre are choosing farming, and growing food for their communities. 

Regier is returning home to plant over 1000 acres of grain in Saskatchewan.  The Murrays have started a farmers market in New Glasgow that is gaining momentum and popularity.  Harbottle has started seeding in her greenhouse and plans to expand her markets in Halifax and Tatamagouche.

When asked why she farms, Harbottle doesn't hesitate, "Because I love it and it makes sense to me," she says.  "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 describes as "working like hell and not making much money," the feeling of optimism and enthusiasm amongst the young farmers is difficult to ignore. 

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

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


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