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.
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Many young farmers share a deep frustration with the current state of the agricultural system and see their own labour as a means to enact tangible, positive impact. They find that amidst so much global turmoil, being able to grow healthy, sustainable food is a deeply satisfying undertaking. For Erica Lemieux, a 26 year old urban farmer in Toronto, this was the very reason she chose to farm. “Learning how to grow food is a small thing but it’s also a huge thing,” she told me. “Young people are realizing they’ve lost this basic skill and are choosing to reclaim this knowledge. In doing so, they’re rejecting the current agricultural system and reinventing what it means to farm.”
And reinvent they do. While their motivations may be rooted in idealism, the actions of young farmers are intelligent, practical and forward-thinking. Today’s modern food system is characterized by mega-farms, mechanization and monocrops. While this system is profitable for some, we are seeing the dire ramifications of such a food system in the form of labour rights violations, ecosystem devastation, inhumane treatment of animals and a lack of transparency as to where our food comes from, who grows it and how. In many ways, the approach young farmers are taking today is bringing agriculture back to its roots – small, diverse farming operations with a human face.
It’s this approach that is making farming for young and new farmers both financially and ethically sound as they strive to make a living in a way that gives back to communities and the environment. According to Tarrah Young, a 34 year-old in her 10th year of farming, “people don’t pay for food but they will pay for the knowledge that they are doing good. Young farmers are invested in sustainability and contributing to the health of the planet and are building a loyal customer base around that.”
To truly sell that knowledge of health, sustainability and community, you have to live it. A common thread among young women farmers is their relationship-based approach to farming. This means knowing their plants, animals and soil through-and-through so that they can respond effectively when things are out of balance. This also means building relationships with the community to whom they sell and with whom they work.