January 20, 2012 • In web :: Features
The New Face of Farming
Emily Van Halem takes a closer look at the lives of a diverse collection of young women farmers and the positive impact they are having on sustainable food production while taking part in a highly rewarding vocation. This is the expanded version of an article that appears in the Winter 2012 issue of Shameless.
Looking for a job? Check your local classifieds and you’ll find that many types of ads abound. But have you ever seen a “Farmers Wanted” ad? I haven’t. Nevertheless, the agricultural sector in Canada is in desperate need of help.
In the next ten years 75% of existing farmers are going to reach retirement age with few prospects of replacement. Pause to ponder the gravity of this situation. Who will grow our food? Will we become totally dependent on industrial farms and imported food? Are we comfortable with relying on imported labour? What do these things mean for food prices and quality? What implications do they have for the social and economic fabric of rural communities?
Leave it to young people to face these questions head on. Despite an aging farmer population and uncertain finances, there is a small but steadily growing number of young farmers who have the courage, dedication, passion and ingenuity to turn conventional farming on its head and are making a go at it in new and exciting ways. Who are they and how are they doing it?
Today’s new farmers include a diverse body of young people ranging from new immigrants, urbanites, scholars and those coming to farming from a previously established career. Of these new farmers, a growing proportion is made up of young women. Most of them are digging into their work for different reasons and in different ways than their predecessors. A survey taken by FarmStart, an Ontario-based organization dedicated to helping people pursue careers in agriculture, found that 68% of its interns grew up in the suburbs or city and 95% had at least some post-secondary education. Intention, rather than necessity, appears to drive these young people to what is still seen as an unusual career choice.