Has it ever crossed your mind that following in “Old MacDonald’s” foot steps could potentially lead you to a career in farming and agricultural business? I’m sure a lot of you have had great luck with you green thumbs, but, have any of you thought about taking your luck to a much larger scale? The dream of many women and men these days is to work outside, with their hands, in something they know they can see results. In hopes to educate, inspire and even bring awareness to proper farming, the importance of local farming and the beauty of choosing farming as a career path, Just Food is hosting a wonderful workshop showcasing a flourishing career path for students and whoever is looking for a different (albeit interesting) career.
With the rise of locally grown food, ethically raised animals and organic farming, the demands for said desire comes at a cost for such a commodity. Farming as a career, from my understanding, came about as a generational and family setting; you became a farmer because your parents were both farmers – and so on. But now, with the growing years, farming has become something more than just a way of life, but more so a science and a business.
People are becoming smarter about their food – noticing changes both in the taste and quality of the product. The importance has been highlighted even more within the last years to support local farmers. Once you tasted an apple that what an apple is suppose-to-taste-like; it is hard to go back to overproduced, damaging and generally not-as-good-of quality fruit, hailing from other countries.
Because of this, farming has been pushed to the forefront, gaining ground fiercely. I had a chance to interview Julia Laforge the coordinator for the upcoming workshop – Exploring The New Farm Dream.
Apt613: First off, tell me a little about yourself and how you got started with this workshop.
Julia: My name is Julia Laforge and I’m the outreach coordinator and farmer training coordinator at Just Food. I started at Just Food last fall after finishing my Master’s in Geography at the University of Ottawa where I looked at 1930s Saskatchewan farmers who adapted to the drought during the Great Depression. Through my studies, I developed a keener interest in agricultural and food issues in Canada and when this job became available at Just Food, I was thrilled to get it.
Just Food is a partner in the FarmON Alliance, a provincial group that organizes around recruiting and maintaining new farmers. Currently, a young farmer is defined as someone younger than 45, so in a few years we may have a shortage of farmers. It used to be that young farmers were the children of farm families, but this is no longer the case, as many new farmers today are considered ‘city-kids.’ They are interested in growing food and spending time outside, but they didn’t grow up on a farm. This workshop is to
help out people like that who are interested in farming, but don’t have much experience and are unsure where they should get started.
Apt613: For those who don’t know, what is Just Food and what can you tell us about them?
Julia: Just Food is a non-profit that works on food issues in Ottawa. We work on issues varying from equal access to nutritious food for all citizens, to promoting local food to the public and educating them on local food issues, to assisting new (and continuing) farmers. We have four main project areas: the Food For All policy project, Savour Ottawa, Community Garden Network, and the FarmOn Alliance. We also partner with other local and regional organizations to put on events in the area. Our main publication is the Buy Local Food Guide which we are currently updating for this year (but you can see last year’s here) which highlights producers in the Ottawa area. For more information you can visit our website: www.justfood.ca.
Apt613: You’ve got two full days of integral learning, what do you plan to achieve within the time frame of your workshops?
Julia: The workshop will be a mix of classwork, field trips, and panel discussions. The course was developed in the US at the New England Small Farm Institute and was adapted for the Canadian context by FarmStart in Guelph, a key partner in the FarmON Alliance. The course will look at issues of finances, lifestyle, workload, and resources (both financial and educational) that are available and ask participants if they are ready to start their own farm and help them create an action plan to start making that dream happen. Most participants in the past have indicated that the course was a great way to determine clear goals and to help them create a pathway to achieving those goals. Also, this course is good for those who want to re-strategize their existing farm business and maybe get into a new field of production.
The course will be taking place during two weeknights and two Saturday full-days beginning at the end of April and spread out over the next 4 weeks and you can register now on our website: http://www.justfood.ca/farmertraining.php
Apt613: Clearly, the importance of locally owned farms (run by the farmers themselves), local produce and locally and ethically raised animals has boomed within the last years. Do you see a natural interest in farming becoming a popular career choice?
Julia: Indeed I do! I think a lot of the new farmers that we’re seeing today, who I mentioned are also not from a farming background, are people who are interested in producing food because they themselves are concerned about where their food comes from and they want to be able to provide other people with access to nutritious local food that is both ethical and ecological. From what I’ve seen, a lot of young people who are interested in farming today are concerned about food issues, sometimes environmental issues too, but they are definitely an energetic bunch that are looking for an alternative to the 9-5 office job. Many people are more aware of food issues in general and are making more conscientious decisions when it comes to choosing their food options, this makes it a bit easier to make a living as a small-scale farmer with a market garden production but it also gets a lot of people thinking about where their food comes from and how they can make a difference.
Apt613: With workshops like this, are you hoping to showcase the wonders of farming, or has it become a romanticized career? From my understanding, there are hardships involved.
Julia: Great point, farming, like many things in life, isn’t easy. One of the biggest challenges that potential new farmers must address is the isolation of living in a rural area, especially when they grew up in the city. The course also offers a bit of reality check by having a discussion with other new farmers who are in the first few years of their farms. This way, participants can gain a better understanding of what it means to become a farmer and whether or not their ready to make that commitment. While isolation can be a challenge, I think that having a network of other farmers can be a way of addressing that challenge and certainly Ottawa has a strong farming community.
Other challenges that potential new farmers should think about include financial risk and physical work load. Financial risk is an issue for anyone wanting to work independently and fortunately there are more and more resources available to new farmers to help them
get established. In terms of physical work, for many this is one of the attractive things about becoming a farmer – getting to work outside with your hands!
Apt613: What are some fascinating facts that one may learn within these workshops?
Julia: To me the biggest pull of this workshop is the chance to meet some local farmers from the Ottawa region and to talk to them about their experiences. There’s an opportunity to learn from them and also to develop long-term relationships that can become very useful in the future if they do decide to start farming.
The workshops take place:
Wednesday, April 27th from 6PM – 9PM
Saturday, May 7th from 9AM – 5PM
Saturday, May 14th from 9APM – 5PM
Wednesday, May 18th from 6PM – 9PM
$300/person and $150 for each additional person with the same farm goals (ex: family, business partners). Location, in Ottawa, will be given upon registration.
Contact Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613-236-9300 ext. 306