Supporting New Farmers

Agricultural Renewal means supporting a new generation of farmers in Ontario.

by Christie Young, Director of FarmStart

We are facing a very real crisis of renewal in agriculture within the next 10 years. Farmers are getting older in Canada and fewer young people are entering farming.   Just 2% of the Canadian population farms. With under 30,000 young farmers in Canada today and the fastest pace of decline in our history, fewer and fewer farmers will be producing our food in the future. This loss of farmers will severely impact our food security, the capacity of our farms to provide Canadians with most of the healthy foods we need to thrive in the 21st Century.

We need young farmers, we need new farmers, we need more farmers.

Fortunately, we have begun to witness a strong resurgence of interest in healthy food and farming. Increasing numbers of young people from farm and non-farm backgrounds, new immigrants and second-career farmers are interested in pursuing a future and livelihood in agriculture. They are striving to build entrepreneurial, economically viable and ecologically sustainable farm enterprises.

There are many challenges facing these new entrants, yet there are also new opportunities. They bring skills, connections and passion that can lead to innovation and renewal.

The growth of consumer demand for certified organic and locally-grown foods has created a space for new entrants and smaller-scale farm businesses who can seize this opportunity by reconnecting with consumers, shortening the supply chain and selling more direct. They are taking advantage of the rising demand for fresh local produce and value-added artisanal products and creating new business models.

These new consumer trends are here to stay. And municipal and provincial governments are beginning to realize the potential of these new and re-strategizing farmers, both in terms of food security, economic development and community revitalization.

This is an opportune moment to encourage our new MPs to make a clear commitment to helping a new generation of farmers across Ontario create successful and sustainable businesses.

We are currently in the middle of the re-negotiation of the next Agricultural policy framework, Growing Forward 2 that provides the funding for most of our agricultural programs and servicesOur government in Ontario can take a leadership role over the next year to work with the federal government to support and implement programs and services that support the farmers who can produce the food which consumers are calling for.

Here’s what I would suggest they do to ensure the agricultural future of Ontario:

Farm policies must support smaller farms, because young farmers and new farmers usually start out on small farms. If our policies do not support viable small farms, we bar the door to new entrants.

Prime farmland must remain in the hands of farmers. We cannot continue to let much of our best farmland be bought up by speculators and developers who are intent on converting it, permanently, to non-agricultural uses.

Sustainability means long-term land tenure and stewardship. The long-term investments needed to care for our land, soil, ecosystems and local communities require secure land tenure for those who grow food, and access on affordable terms for those who want to begin.

Farmland Trusts and public ownership can provide farmers with long-term leases and the security of tenure they need to take good care of land they don’t own. Innovative arrangements of public ownership, at the provincial, regional and municipal levels can help young farmers enter agriculture; this is especially needed on the remaining quality farmland in and around the major cities.

New, debt-minimizing forms of land transfer will allow farm succession. We must reduce debt barriers to give a new generation of farmers a reasonable chance to succeed.

Patient capital is needed.   New farmers want to do things differently and need the opportunity to learn by doing. They need recognition and appropriate financing for entrepreneurial, diversified business models.

New farmers need training programs in rural and urban communities.  New farmers from non-farm backgrounds need affordable ways to explore a career in agriculture, or we risk losing prospective farmers at the outset.

Farmer-to-farmer mentoring and the transfer of knowledge and skills is critical for the next generation. Investment is required to increase the opportunities, standardization and quality of mentorship-based, hands-on farmer training needed to develop a professional cohort of new farmers.

Farmers need regionally-based extension services. Farmers need expert, unbiased information about low-input agriculture, adaptation to climate change, integrated pest management, alternative fertility techniques, energy efficiency, and a range of innovative, cost-reducing practices that are not available from the companies that supply them with seeds and fertilizers.

Exiting farmers want to retire with dignity and security.  Ensuring that farmers have adequate retirement funds means that families will not have to sell and refinance their land-base each generation.

Farm support and supply-managed sectors need to be more flexible. New farmers do not qualify for many support programs and supply-managed systems are often prohibitively expensive, effectively barring new entrants in these sectors. We must take measures to accommodate new entrants as well as supporting innovative business models.

Put Food In the Budget

by Mike Balkwill,

Co-ordinator, Put Food in the Budget campaign

The video of Jack Layton at his funeral shows him when he was a Toronto city councilor saying that it is unacceptable that people in Toronto don’t have enough food. It was unacceptable then and it is still unacceptable now.

We have a perfectly acceptable food distribution system – as long as you have the income to access it. People with low incomes – people who receive a form of social assistance, or people who work at part-time and low wage jobs – can’t access that system.   I remember early in my social work education someone telling me that the problem with our economic system is not ‘production’, the problem is distribution. This person was saying the economy can manufacture large amounts of product – but to be ‘distributed’ people had to be able to afford to purchase it. The North American agricultural economy produces more than enough food to feed everyone – but people are hungry if they don’t have enough money to buy it in stores.

That is why the Put Food in the Budget campaign has been calling for an immediate $100 a month increase for every adult in Ontario receiving social assistance. This is a first step towards incomes that guarantee access to food, housing and a life of health and dignity.

The Harris and now the McGuinty governments have adopted a policy of letting the voluntary and non-profit sector create a parallel food distribution system for people with low incomes. This parallel system is inefficient, and for users, often humiliating.

It is also an unsustainable system – dependent on the contribution of thousands of volunteers. The answer is NOT a better system of food banks and emergency meal programmes. The answer is people need incomes that enable them to participate in the food distribution system that we have.

Now I know the current food distribution system has some other problems – like being supplied by large corporate agribusinesses, trucking in food from across the continent and being vulnerable to e coli and other contaminations. The movement for local food security is important and will become even more important as peak oil raises fuel costs for trucking companies and as climate change impacts disrupt food production.

So let’s not build a better food bank system – let’s agitate in this election for social and economic policies that focus on ending poverty caused by inadequate incomes, the high cost of housing and the lack of full-time work with decent wages. These are the reasons most people do not have enough money for food.

Good Food for Good Health

by Lynn Roblin, Chair, Ontario Collaborative Group on Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

The Ontario Collaborative Group on Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (OCGHEPA) is a provincial collaboration of not-for-profit, public health and academic organizations dedicated to addressing population-based issues relating to healthy eating, physical activity, healthy weights and the determinants of health, including food access, availability and adequacy.

Our mission is to improve the health of all Ontarians by advancing healthy eating and active living initiatives through strategic partnerships, knowledge exchange and collective action.  Our vision for 2015 is an Ontario that supports healthy eating and active living for all.

We work collaboratively on recommendations to government that address the growing rate of obesity and physical-inactivity in Ontario and the social determinants of health. We believe a strong coordinated inter-ministerial provincial approach for food and nutrition and physical activity is needed to promote a healthy province and health and wellness in Ontarians.

OCGHEPA is working on the following priority areas:

  • Making Ontario the healthiest province
  • Developing an Ontario food and nutrition strategy
  • Improving access for all Ontarians to healthy food and physical activity opportunities
  • Using the 2015 Pan Am games as an opportunity to promote healthy eating and active living
  • Childhood obesity
  • Food security
  • Healthy eating/physical activity in school
  • Built environment

On June 23, 2011 numerous partners and stakeholders were invited to participate in a working day devoted to strategic next steps in the creation of a comprehensive Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy.

The objectives of this discussion forum were:

  • To begin to activate momentum for the creation of an Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy that will align the common goals of government representatives and key stakeholders to stimulate significant positive change for healthy individuals and communities;
  • To initiate the discussion on working collaboratively to establish overall goals and actionable next steps in the development of a comprehensive Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy;
  • To start to engage participants in opportunities for further collaboration and identify potential leaders for Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy development.

Since then, various stakeholders have continued to work together to formulate the basic tenet of a food and nutrition strategy for Ontario. This work involves:

  • Identifying whose voice is missing in discussions surrounding the strategy, engaging them and building relationships;
  • Defining consensus on the issues at hand in order to help direct appropriate solutions;
  • Developing a set of concrete goals that the strategy might embody to serve as a starting point and stimulating discussion around the best approach to action in the initial stages of strategy development;
  • Determining smaller areas of focus within a broader, system-wide strategy for ease of management and stakeholder buy-in where their interests, expertise and priorities lie;
  • Leveraging the strategy on current similar efforts within and across sectors;
  • Learning from other successful initiatives of this scale, both nationally and internationally (e.g. Japan, Australia);
  • Identifying who can provide needed human and financial resources;
  • Engaging academia for research support and funding opportunities.

We look forward to working collaboratively with our partners and across governments to have an impact on improving the health and well-being of Ontarians.

Ontario Collaborative Group on Healthy Eating and Physical Activity partners include the Canadian Cancer Society-Ontario Division, Canadian Diabetes Association, Cancer Care Ontario, Dietitians of Canada, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health, Ontario Society of Physical Activity Promoters in Public Health, Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Management in Public Health, Ophea, Parks and Recreation Ontario, and academics from the universities of Guelph and Waterloo. The Canadian Cancer Society acts as a secretariat for the group.

Protecting and Keeping Control of Our Farmland

by Ann Slater, National Farmers Union Region 3 (Ontario) Board Member

 Across Ontario farmland is being paved over, dug up and converted to other uses by both citizens of Ontario and foreign companies.  The proposed mega-quarry in Melancthon Township has caught the attention of both rural and urban residents concerned about the loss of farmland and our ability to feed ourselves down the road.  With the increased awareness, this is an ideal time to bring the issues of aggregate removal and foreign ownership of farmland to the campaign trail.

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