Ag groups provide advice for renters

New farmers take part in farm days, educational workshops

COURTENAY, B.C. — Foster Richardson laments that so much farm expertise is not getting passed along to young producers like him.

“It’s a bit scary to think of what could be lost,” he said.

Eager to farm after graduating from the University of British Columbia’s land and food college, he and a few friends were lucky to find Beaver Meadow Farms at Courtenay, B.C. The cattle farm offered them land to get started two years ago.

Richardson said a wealth of knowledge and infrastructure is not being passed along to the next generation because of the challenging economics of getting into farming, especially for those without family farm connections.

In February, Jay Baker French was learning holistic management in Saskatchewan while Richardson and Natasha Tymo managed the chicken flock and prepared the greenhouse for the new growing season.

“There’s a lot of enjoyment in putting to use what we learned in school,” said Richardson.

Their Birds and the Beans farm raises 150 free range laying hens, using a moveable coop to keep the birds safe at night.

They use a greenhouse and high tunnels to extend the growing season and speed plant development.

The group grows produce for a farmers market and a community supported agriculture venture, in which 30 customers pay $25 a week.

“That helps us get money up front,” said Richardson.

The partners also work as labourers at Beaver Meadow.

Tymo said the farm’s philosophy is “to feed people fully,” so they’re exploring growing grain and beans and providing more produce in the winter when demand is high and supply limited.

The farm is not certified organic but follows organic practices. The partners pay a percentage of their revenue to their landlord and keep their costs down by saving their own seed and using an older model truck.

Tymo said they all share a passion for farming and draw much fulfilment from that.

“Within all of our philosophies is a belief we need to be growing our food,” said Richardson.

It’s not the first such venture with aspiring farmers for Edgar Smith of Beaver Meadows.

He got involved to ensure that the family farm, which dates back to the 1930s, will be used for agriculture well into the future.

“It’s a long way from finding somebody to be able to purchase and take over the farm, but you never know,” Smith said.

His previous renters grew wasabi for five years and today own and operate their own farm and agribusiness in the Comox Valley.

“If my brothers and my family didn’t want to do this, I think agriculture and farming on the island is going to lose a lot of knowledge in this next generation,” said Smith.

“There’s nobody behind to take over.”

He cited New Zealand, where young farmers can work on an established farm and earn a share of the land, herd and proceeds over a period of years and then have the opportunity to buy the farm.

“Here in B.C., we don’t have a way to figure that out,” he said.

“Without any kind of support from the community and government, there is very little way for beginning farmers to start.”

Smith offers his young growers advice in marketing, soils, fertility, irrigation, drainage, pests and disease and planting times.

“If they have a problem, they can come to us and we give them the benefit of our experience,” he said.

Richardson said they are “stumbling our way through it,” reaching out to groups such as Young Agrarians, which brings together far-flung producers and organizes events such as pot lucks, open farm days and demonstrations so that they can exchange ideas and explore different farm options.

Such groups offer an easy way to meet others with similar interests and learn skills such as greenhouse building.

B.C. Young Farmers, another support group, combines educational sessions with social time to allow farmers to connect, said executive director Christine Koch.

Sessions can explore how to prepare for a meeting with a banker or do a business plan, while offers links to more resources.

“Our focus is to educate, connect and have interaction between young farmers,” Koch said.

A recently completed survey conducted by the National New Farmer Coalition and the University of Manitoba focused on developing policy for new farmers.

It surveyed those who are currently farming, wanting to farm or had recently left the industry in an attempt to learn what these farmers need and where they obtain their information.

For more information, visit 2015/02/10/new-farmer-survey.

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