Map helps new producers find farms

Andreas Grueneberg sorts greens on the family’s farm near Edmonton. When the Gruenebergs listed their operation for sale, they focused on young people who could afford a small farm with big returns. | Supplied photo

Young Agrarians develops a guide to connect young and new farmers with producers who want to sell or rent their land

Mary Ellen Grueneberg said the family’s 10 acres beside the Edmonton International Airport gave them a good income as they raised food and produce for farmers markets and high-end restaurants.

When they listed their farm for sale, they directed their focus toward young people who could afford the small farm that provided big returns.

“This is such an interesting farm with only 10 acres. It is affordable for a young farmer with all the buildings. There are so many different opportunities.

“It’s an opportunity we know that makes money.”

They listed their farm on the Young Agrarians farm listing map, a website designed to help young and new farmers get into farming.

Connecting existing farmers who may want to rent or sell their farm to new farmers is the goal behind the Young Agrarians Alberta Land Access Guide.

As well as a map listing farms, the guide helps new and young farmers navigate the opportunities and pitfalls of leasing and buying land, helps develop land transfer agreements and links new farmers with mentors.

At Grueneberg’s Greens, Eggs and Ham, the family raised ducks eggs, geese, turkeys, herbs, greens and vegetables in demand across the province.

“I know you can make a lot of money on our 10 acres. We want to sell the concept as well as help someone get into it.”

Mary Ellen Grueneberg at her family’s farmers market booth. | Supplied photo

Land access is one of the largest challenges for young farmers. The goal of the Land Access Guide is to help new and young farmers find creative ways to begin farming and match them with outgoing farmers.

“The Alberta Land Access Guide is full of case stories of people doing creative things to gain access to farmland. This is going to be a cornerstone resource for new farmers in Alberta and will show that the farming journey and finding land is possible,” said Dana Penrice, Young Agrarians’ Prairies program manager.

A Land Access Guide has previously been available to farmers in British Columbia, but this latest guide focuses on the needs of Alberta farmers.

Kirsty Frayn listed their Pasture Perfect farm on the website a year ago. They were looking for serious buyers for their small farm when it looked like health issues would force the young family away from their central Alberta farm.

Luckily, Frayn’s health issues are now under control and COVID-19 has created a greater interest in their farm’s local produce.

While it was for sale there were a few interested buyers.

“Most of the serious people knew what it took to run a farm,” said Frayn of Coronation.

Further north at Edgerton, Jim and Bonnie Brown listed their Bar U.J. Ranch and Farm for rent along with the sale of their 250 cows. They listed land and cattle on the site after meeting members of the Young Agrarians during a holistic management conference.

They did have inquiries, but many of the buyers wanted to rip up their 3,000 acres of grassland for grain and have nothing to do with the 250 cows.

“We wanted to preserve it as grassland. We wanted the land to stay in grass,” said Bonnie.

The young farmers looking for land on the site seem to be focused on small scale farms who don’t want to rent 3,000 acres of grassland, she said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Betty Ternier Daniels of Cochin, Sask., who wanted to test the waters for selling her 800-acre farm two years ago.

“I haven’t had success because it appears most young people want to farm on a very small scale close to a major city,” said Ternier Daniels.

When they initially listed their farm they were living on an acreage near Saskatoon. They have since sold the acreage and moved back to the farm at Cochin, about two hours from Saskatoon.

“Although the family farm is still a sacred icon of settler culture, the shift in population from rural to urban challenges sentimental endorsements of farming and small town life,” she said.

Less than 20 percent of Canada’s population lives in rural areas, including small towns and villages, so the pool of young farmers is small.

“Farmland succession requires people who want to farm. So far, I haven’t been able to find them. But if the pandemic does spawn a new batch of back-to-the-landers, at least I’ll be ready.”

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