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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These young women tend to sell their products locally – through a farmers’ market, a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program, or at the farm gate itself. And whether they are the lead farmer or are farming in partnership, they take a collaborative approach, bringing in friends, family, volunteers and paid or work-exchange interns into the fold. The steep financial costs of getting started at farming make this collaborative approach imperative for many.
But this collaborative and supportive spirit works both ways. Now that her farm is up and running (in its sixth year of operation), Caitlin Hall, a 30-year-old woman farming solo in Southern Ontario, explains the importance of community in agricultural contexts: “Farming by nature isn’t a solitary activity … so while on paper it’s just my place, I have a great network of people here.” She is happy being able to offer living quarters to several interns each year who have even started their own farm businesses using Caitlin’s land as an incubator space.
Since most young women entering farming aren’t coming from farming backgrounds, a hands-on education is also an essential ingredient to farming successfully. There’s a steep learning curve associated with acquiring necessary knowledge and skills. While some universities and colleges offer courses in agriculture, farm-based education programs are quickly gaining in popularity across Canada. In Ontario, FarmStart offers a farm incubator program, skill-based trainings and farm business courses. THINKFarm is a similar organization in Nova Scotia. Some provinces even offer start-up grants for new farmers to help with initial capital costs.
Sexism and ageism are realities for many young woman farmers. Old-schoolers in the agriculture scene often don’t take them seriously and may be slow to recognize them as the primary farmer when working alongside male colleagues or partners. Despite such negative experiences, the women I interviewed often expressed their surprise at how readily they were accepted and supported by the older male farmers in their community. For Amy Lounder, the 31-year-old proprietor of a winter crop CSA in Nova Scotia, men in their fifties and sixties were her main source of support in her first year of farming. They had the expertise and tools to help her and to her surprise, they seemed to want to support anyone who was interested in farming, given that young people aren’t getting into it on a broad scale.