Passing on the family farm takes nurturing of the family

I’m a millennial. I don’t buy diamonds, or napkins or cereal. I lack manners. I am entitled, and I am impatient and I can’t seem to stay in one place, let alone work one job for long enough to be taken seriously. (Or so the media would have me believe).

I am also one of the nearly 25,000 Canadians under 35 who considers themselves a farmer.

Whether you call us — and by us, I mean anyone born between 1981 and 1997—millennials, Gen-Y-ers, Generation Me-ers, Digital Natives or one of the many other names designated to this group of tech-savvy, risk-taking, commitment-loathing group of people, there’s a certain amount of contempt attached.

My goal with this column isn’t to make older generations of farmers love millennial farmers and it isn’t to speak for an entire generation of farmers my age. That isn’t fair, nor is it accurate.

My goal is to get a dialogue going between the fastest growing age group of farmers (70 and older) and the one, though growing, that still accounts for the smallest percentage of farmers (35 and under).

Because while it’s great news that the number of farmers 35 and under has grown for the first time in 25 years, it’s alarming that only one in 12 farms have formal succession plans in place, and that since 1991, we’ve lost, on average, more than nine farms a day.

I don’t believe it’s because young people don’t want to farm. I do believe that there are a lot of obstacles in their way. Land is expensive. Equipment is expensive. Farming is chaotic and unpredictable.

If they aren’t from a farm, these obstacles are nearly impossible to overcome. If they are returning to a family farm, the expectation to “do as Dad did” is so present, and so heavy.

Earlier this year, at a workshop on succession in Lacombe, Alta., an older farmer stood up and spoke of how he was worried his “dream” wouldn’t be continued.

My cousin, a young farmer near Sundre, Alta., responded: if you don’t allow for young farmers to pursue their own dreams, how will they succeed?

It’s not about whose dream is better, and it’s definitely not about entitlement. It’s about working together to make sure the family farm doesn’t disappear.

If older farmers don’t make room, there won’t be a young farmer, family member or not, to take over when they retire or die. Instead, the land and the infrastructure will be gobbled up by Canada’s industrial agriculture machine.

Of course, there’s a place and a demand for that, but there also has to be a place for smaller farms that nurture and encourage the growth of millennial farmers because there’s a lot we can offer.

For one, we’re educated, meaning farming is often a second, third, or fourth career. We’re massage therapists and carpenters and journalists and soil scientists and engineers and electricians and interior designers and artists and teachers.

How does the way an artist looks at farming compare with the way a scientist looks at farming? It’s different, and it’s wonderful.

We not only use social media platforms such as Instagram to connect to customers and market our goods; we’re also following farm accounts from all over the world — accounts that introduce us to different breeds of animals, ways to save money and approaches that mitigate our impact on the environment.

We’re not so set in our ways that our minds can’t be changed. We re-search and challenge “fake news.”

And because we often studied and lived in cities, we are connected to our urban counterparts in a way our farming elders aren’t.

I’m not asking the older generation to hand over the reins because I know they’ve worked hard to get where they are and deserve to retire comfortably or to keep farming until they’re 100 if that’s what they want.

What I am asking is for them to start talking about it, to start seeing the potential in the dreams of a millennial and, if the kids aren’t interested in the farm, start looking elsewhere for a young farmer who is.

Nikki Wiart is a new farmer living in Castor, Alta., writing when her garden, bees, chickens and pigs allow.

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Comments

  • Harold

    There isn’t a family that raises their child to be anything like the description of the millennial. The State run education system is producing them. Farming today does not produce the wealth that is necessary to attract people to the Farm and from that gain a competitive livelihood in todays standards; the State is also the cause of that. All one has to do in earnest is to ask themselves – what force is holding me back from achieving wealth and achieving my goals? You will find that it is lack of education (the how to) and government (Acts, Codes, Regulations, Agencies) that are standing in your way. A standard 12 years of State run education in their learning institutions and those exiting do not know – the how to; only servitude to the highest bidder. If you further your education by attending a university or the like, the result is the same except personal debt is saddled to – servitude to the highest bidder, and the highest wages pays the debt – while you work in servitude. The Public State run education system produces the slave trade for the industry masters. (Elite) The difference between mom/dad and state is that Mom/Dad will not allow their home-schooled child to proceed until after the achievement of **100% on their child’s testing; the State will – and does allow 50% and sometimes less in all testing for the child to proceed – for the purposes of the slave trade – and not for the purpose of the child. Many parents are saying – “that is not how I raised them” and they are correct; the institution had them seven hours a day – that the parents did not. Home-schooling is frowned upon by government and the learning institutions for reason. **100% is the reason and they want you to trust less. We’ve been brainwashed to trust the problem and not the resolve. The students are speaking this truth by their actions and afterward in the workforce/slave trade. In home-schooling, the parents are not taken away by the police for interference and separated from their own child as they are in the state run system. In home-schooling a child is not held back because they are sick. in home-schooling the child has free time when the child needs it and they study when fit to study and absorb much faster. In home schooling the child has no homework and no disappointed teacher to face the next day and no fear of a principal and solitary confinement. In home-schooling the child is not expelled and does not gain a bad reputation for public record and future prospects. In home schooling the child is not seen in a bad light such as the system teacher sees and responds to the child. In home-schooling the child’s fate and future is not held by or in the hands of a school tribunal. In home-schooling, if you teach a child only words and their complete meanings and their correct spelling – that child will absorb all books like a sponge; the parents offer the best of books – the State cares less. Is the school system a valid alternative to home-schooling? Are they the same in child benifit? It is NOT Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, that are important; it is attaining all word knowledge first and that is important – and that leads you to all reading, writing, and arithmetic, and beyond – to all possibilities of self-determination – and not industry determining you or you determined by government. The concept that a home schooled child is not properly socialized is totally and utterly 100% BS. (**100%) You are not your own product, but a product of the system – if you believe that the government and industry should determine you – and there are many who are not their own product and are working FOR that living and are mentally exhausted and do not know why. We live in a depressed non self-determined society – State and Industry Elite run – and exhaustion, debt, and bondage, is our reward.- the public education system the cause and home-schooling the turn-around. If the schools empty, taxation decreases. If the internet becomes the school, the necessary programmes will follow. (**100%)

    • Jennifer Hildebrand

      Totally agree with you 100% I have been saying this to, i used to not agree with homeschooling.. but i have since changed my mind, if i had to do it over again i would choose homeschooling for sure.

      • Harold

        Me too, but unfortunately I discovered this too late. Like everyone else – I went through their indoctrination process and unaware and I sent my kids though the same indoctrination. The same void that they had is the same void that I had. What I truly needed to know they could have easily taught – but they didn’t – so I had to learn elsewhere. What I learned elsewhere uncovered the corrupt public education system. The teacher’s themselves came from the same system also void and unaware. Politicians came from that system void and unaware and every walk of life the same. When a person realizes this you can see the slave trade of the Elite. They teach only what a slave needs to know and the slaves believe that they have received an education. I have described homeschooling – and the Sate run is of no comparison. You can compare the State run education system to the State run prison system – warden, jail cell, and all.
        May I ask what helped you to change your mind?

  • Dr

    It is entitlement when it’s dads and moms money and dads and moms 1/2 ton,and dads and moms house .
    And of course dad and moms advice.

    Somehow, these young people have taken the approach that it is all too formidable to even start. Giving up unless it’s given to them. The marketing and media of the modern world have perpetuated this. Impatience and immediate gratification are the culprits. It’s really that we have failed to impress upon them that time is on their side. The majority of them refuse to listen to advice or build equity in a way that works. They want to enter halfway up the ladder. It is not only a lack of education but a lack of the young people listening. They are no different than previous young generations just more stubborn. Farming has always been a bit formidable to get into and any investment is a bit painful but the rewards are great. Like other problems of today it is a systemic societal problem if we could address the short attention span and lack of commitment then we may be in to something

    • Merlin Stewart

      This may be true in some cases but certainly not all. And time is definitely not on the side of the parents in most cases. The earlier that communication begins, the sooner that viable succession plans can be put in place. Options disappear with age and time.

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