Farms At Work; Work At Farms

Farms at Work has taken on the challenge.

Reflections on a Conversation with Kelly Carmichael from Farms at Work

PATRICIA REMY – Grocery prices are up. Covid exposed the gaps in our food supply chain. Citizens are becoming increasingly conscious of the nutritional value of the food they eat. Climate change is reducing the amount of land world-wide which will sustain agriculture. That is the reality we collectively face. Let’s not look away.

For well over a decade The Greenzine has been explaining the benefits, economic and environmental, of growing food locally – on locally owned farms. Here in the Great Lakes Basin we dwell, as one commentator put it, in the banana belt of Canada. Agriculture, especially sustainable, net-zero-energy farming, would seem to be our region’s obvious destiny and calling.

And yet, it is an existential and uphill challenge. Farmland value increased in the period 1996-2020 from $1200 to $8500 per acre. Young people, aspiring to buy a farm, face similar difficulties as their city-dwelling cousins seeking to finance their own homes. Those who work our present farms are an endangered species:

The number of East Central Ontario Farmers under 35 years of age has declined in the period 1991-2021 by 74.6%.

Who will run the farms and grow our food in the all-too-near future?

Do we as citizens want to leave Ontario’s (remaining) farmland to big corporations, soon the only ones with the financial clout to buy it? Where will the democratic controls then be, e.g. to ensure that our food is not grown by exploited climate immigrants? Or the soil pushed to its limit by toxic pesticides and fertilizers? If you follow the misadventures of Monsanto and Syngenta, you will know that these are not just alarmist suspicions.

No one is more aware of these circumstances than our Ontario farmers themselves.

Farms at Work has taken on the challenge.

FAW is an incorporated, not-for-profit organization working in Peterborough and the Kawarthas as well as in the rest of East Central Ontario. For well over a decade, FAW has been supporting food and farming systems which conserve and/or restore the vitality of our ecosystems.

Farms at Work’s credentials are solid. It co-chaired the Peterborough Alliance for Food and Farming for ten years and co-created the East Central Ontario Farm Stewardship Collaborative more than a decade ago. Farms at Work has offered dozens of educational events across the region, attracting thousands of participants. Over the years farmers, decision-makers, and members of the public have all benefited from these opportunities. During the time in which The Greenzine was published in print, it cooperated with Farms at Work to issue the annual Local Food Guide.

Perhaps most practically and importantly, Farms at Work has developed a suite of tools for owners of farmland and new entrants to facilitate access to land for new entrants and to encourage landowners to keep farmland in production. If outright ownership of farmland is not an option at present, rentals can be a way for young people to get into farming. Farms at Work created as one of the tools now available across the province for connecting new and expanding farmers with farmland.

At the beginning of the month, Kelly Carmichael from Farms at Work was kind enough to share FAW’s visions and goals with me and to tell me what the organization is working on at present. (For more details please see their website).

Most impressive from The Greenzine’s point of view is a project with outreach to the general population, namely the development of a community farm. Community farms can provide a hub for education of new entrants to farming and to the general public.

To create the change needed in the face of growing challenges, we believe land-based agricultural destinations centred around growing and learning would focus and showcase the way forward.

FAW website

This is music to the ears of, for example, The Greenzine’s HIPPO as she pondered (back on Dec 18, 2023) it would be a timely and relevant addition to education in Ontario if the Ministry supported farm camps for school kids. They would spend time outdoors, with all its benefits, assist in meaningful work, and experience firsthand how the existence of us all is dependent on air, water, and the health of the soil.

Because of the scope of the organization it would involve, including insurance, certification, and funding, such a project needs community support and the land necessary for providing programming. It is an investment in the future for ALL of us. It will be costly, but more than worth the time, energy, and funding. This author believes it must become a part of government policy.

Farms at Work is ready, willing, and able to provide the expertise to run such a program. Engaging those who run farms, and that means paying the farmers who participate a teacher’s salary for their time and knowledge, would be only fair and an incentive for them to join the program.

What do you think, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, concerned citizens?

There are music, art, hockey, and dance camps. Why the heck not farm camps?!

Farms At Work; Work At Farms © 2024 by Patricia Remy in The Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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