I recently completed a contract with FarmStart and the Ecological Farmers of Ontario, where I coordinated training programs for farmers. It was a great experience and I hope to do more training in the future. Where FarmStart (www.farmstart.ca) really excels is with their farm incubator program, where ‘wanna-be’ commercial farmers have a safe environment where they can make mistakes, a perfect setting for learning where financial risk is minimal.
The model is proving to be very successful. Small plot farmers have access to all the necessary tools and machines, assistance from a farm manager and guidance from the network of farmers who are all learning together. The idea is that after three to five years, farmers are well prepared with enough experience to ‘graduate’ and start on their own.
The following is an excerpt from ‘A Nursery For New Farmers: At the McVean Incubator Farm, a little land goes a long way for people who want get in the business of growing local food.’
By Colleen Kimmett, 18 Nov 2010, TheTyee.ca.
For the full story, please follow this link:
Local Food Takeaway: Build support networks for new farmers
One of the oft-repeated statistics about agriculture is that the average age of farmers is 52 and climbing. Who will replace them? The new generation isn’t necessarily young people taking over the family farm, but rather university grads or second-careerists who want to break into the business. They’re finding that small-scale farms close to urban markets are the way to go. But starting even a five-acre market farm is a big investment of time and resources. Finding affordable land in these near-urban areas is an even bigger challenge.
Solution? Incubator Farms. FarmStart is a Guelph, Ontario-based organization that supports new farmers through its incubator farm program. At McVean Incubator farm, farmers have access to small plots of land at affordable prices, shared infrastructure like irrigation and cold storage, equipment, and access to a network of experienced professional farmers.
Eric Rosenkrantz and his business partner Hanna Jacobs of Matchbox Garden and Seed Co. are some of those McVean farmers who are ready to graduate. The business is five years old, and provides seeds, produce and seedlings to Toronto markets, as well as to members of a CSA program. On a picnic table near their three-acre plot are soil samples from another property owned by a regional conservation authority. Rozenkrantz says they’re in negotiations to move in next season.
“This is where we’ve developed our chops at growing food,” he says. “We both have some farm experience, but neither of us are from a farming background per se. We figured, well, this is an up and coming industry.”
Farming, an up and coming industry? “Absolutely”, says Rosenkrantz. “The key is doing it small-scale, with few inputs, and having close access to urban markets.”
Farming can make money
Rosenkrantz and Jacobs use biodynamic gardening techniques to get the maximum yield from his few acres. “There’s a compounding growth in your yield if you companion plant well,” he says. “We produce, at the height of the season, about two tonnes of food per week. When it’s all said and done, by the end of October, we expect to make about $25,000 dollars per acre per year from this garden here.”
Rosenkrantz admits that he’s stopped looking at how much he’s making an hour. It’s useless, he says. “If I’m getting by, and this is working, then I’m happy. The business, I realize, can grow if my production methods improve and I get a bit more land.” Plus, he says, he’s noticed that the price difference between what he sells at the market and what is sold at the grocery store has decreased over the past few years.
“These days, we’re getting competitive, because the price of food is going up. That’s the other thing about the global food system, is that really bizarre things affect the price. The price of fuel affects the price. The value of the American dollar affects the price.”