By Alexis Kienlen
It’s no secret that there’s a need for new farmers to join the aging agricultural industry, but new entrants have their own unique challenges. That’s where Young Agrarians, a group designed to meet the needs of the new farmer, comes in.
Young Agrarians, formed in B.C. in 2012, launched an Alberta chapter in February. It’s run out of the Organic Alberta’s office, but there’s no requirement to be organic to join.
“The strategy is just to break through the sense of isolation that lots of young farmers feel,” said Dana Penrice, Alberta co-ordinator for Young Agrarians. “It’s not just a distance thing. It’s a psychological thing. Farmers may not see people in their own communities who are going through the same struggles they are.
There is only 1.6 per cent of the population farming right now, and they carry the burden of solving a lot of the ecological and food security challenges. – Dana Penrice
“There is only 1.6 per cent of the population farming right now, and they carry the burden of solving a lot of the ecological and food security challenges that we are facing. Anything we could be doing to get farmers back on the land is important.”
Although the word “young” is in the group name, Penrice says the title is misleading — there’s no age limit as new farmers can be any age.
In a recent survey done by the National Farmers’ Union of 1,600 self-selected new farmers across the Prairies, 60 per cent said they hadn’t grown up on a farm.
“So it’s not just about passing knowledge from one generation to the next,” said Penrice. “It’s about passing knowledge on between peers.”
Young Agrarians uses farmer-to-farmer networks to share knowledge. The group organizes potlucks, mixers, workshops, farm tours and other opportunities for people to get together and share skills and resources. The aim is to find out what new farmers need, and how best to work with different non-profits or government organizations to meet those needs. They also help coordinate business mentorships for new farmers, and offer online farm business tools on their website. Another website feature is a U-map, which allows farmers to add resources to an online map.
The group doesn’t have a formal membership structure, but there are more than 150 people on Alberta’s email list.
Upcoming events include a small flock chicken workshop in Red Deer on April 16, and a farm tour and workshop in Castor in May. The group also received a $50,000 agricultural community grant from Peavey Mart, to be dispersed over two years.
While the group only exists in Alberta and British Columbia, events have been held in Manitoba and Ontario as well.
“We just did a retreat with new farmers from across the country and from what I’ve seen, it’s really needed across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, too,” said Penrice. “It’s about finding money and a champion.”
More information can be found at youngagrarians.org.