For many young Canadian farmers, working the land is more than just a job; it’s a viable and attractive lifestyle choice, says Clare Cullen, operations director, Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (CSFS) at the University of British Columbia’s UBC Farm.
“We see many young people come to the UBC Farm wanting to learn about how to grow food, how to grow community and develop self-reliance while building strong connections to other like-minded people,” she says.
“Many of these students have no farming background – they are completely new to the area and so perhaps come at it with a fresh approach that is more rooted in seeking a meaningful lifestyle and, even more, to have a positive impact on the world.”
Ms. Cullen says farming today has become a “political act.” It reflects values and beliefs and is a way to make actions count and voices be heard.
“For young people, living one’s values is a high priority. Farming allows you to ‘walk the talk,’ show clearly what your approach is to the world, and have a visceral connection to your core values every day,” she says.
This has become even more important as climate change makes all farming less certain and predictable, adds Ms. Cullen.
“Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases so, in the very near future, we need to farm differently,” she says.
Helping aspirant farmers realize their ambitions is a key element of CSFS’s mission as a teaching and research centre and local-to-global food hub working towards a more sustainable, food-secure future. However, turning dreams into reality for young farmers can be challenging, says Ms. Cullen.
“Land access is a huge challenge, particularly in areas such as the (British Columbia) Lower Mainland where land prices are so high,” she adds.
Rodney Reid, vice-chair of the Canadian Young Farmers’ Forum (CYFF), agrees that access to land is a challenge for young farmers, as is access to capital and labour, but there are also good opportunities in a growing agricultural sector.
“It’s an exciting time to be a farmer,” he says. “The industry is evolving rapidly through advances in technology and equipment, and a closer relationship is developing between farmers and consumers, who are increasingly interested in where their food comes from.”
This view is echoed by Ms. Cullen, who says the growing consumer demand for organic produce – which is higher than Canadian farmers can keep up with – means there is room in the marketplace for more farmers to adopt organic practices.
“We are also seeing a move towards more plant-based diets, which will have the effect of reducing meat production over time in Canada,” she adds. “As we know, raising livestock – particularly using conventional methods – is resource-intensive, so a reduction will benefit the climate.”
CYFF general manager Guenette Bautz says young Canadians considering a career in farming need to invest in their education and business planning.
“Make this a priority and have a realistic awareness of the business; it’s rewarding, but challenging,” she adds.
Ms. Cullen encourages young people thinking about farming as a career to “go for it,” but points out that education and training are challenges because many young farmers don’t have a farming background. However, training programs such as those at UBC Farm and Kwantlen Polytechnic in British Columbia are helping to fill the knowledge gap, as are incubator farms where emergent farmers can experiment and test their skills over several years with all the equipment provided.
The federal government underscored its commitment to the success of young farmers last month with the announcement of an investment under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership’s AgriCompetiveness Program totalling more than $700,000 for two projects to support the development of leaders among Canada’s young farmers.
The CYFF will receive just over $616,000 to provide young farmers with business skills and learning, and networking and peer support opportunities to increase the profitability and efficiency of their operations.
Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers Program will receive $100,925 towards its three-day national recognition event, held annually to recognize young farmers who exemplify excellence in their profession and promote the value of agriculture to Canada and the economy.
Announcing the investment Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, said the future of agriculture is in the hands of the new generation and that’s why the government is committed to supporting young farmers.
Ms. Bautz says the government’s investment will help CYFF continue to support Canadian famers by offering networking opportunities and providing education on topics not found in a traditional classroom.
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