This article was written by Dag Falck who was the former manager of Providence Farm and an inspector of organic farms for 14 years.
Farming is a tough business—I don’t need to convince you of that. But as seasoned farmers will tell you, there is a deep satisfaction in cultivating nourishment out of clods of earth. The question is: with the inherent challenges of farming, how do we get the next generation back to the land?
Before we even look at how a young person would get his or her hands on enough cash for a down payment on a farm, let’s consider what the ideal would-be farmer looks like. We’ll call our protegé Sally. Sally has not been pampered and hasn’t been handed too many opportunities. If she has, she will not have the stamina to overcome obstacles and push through long hours of labour. She doesn’t want what most young folks her age want: cars, money, cellphones, and nice clothes (if she does, she’s lost). She doesn’t need approval for her choices. Sally doesn’t settle for mediocre, and neither does she give up in the face of long, drawn-out struggle.
The thing is, all of this is not enough: Sally also has to be an incredibly clever businesswoman, know her customer intimately, outsmart her competition, and master delivery and presentation like a pro, all while being a master financial planner. She does all this because she cares deeply about nurturing the Earth—seeing the seeds sprout, growing a bountiful harvest, and sharing it with her satisfied customers.
Her challenge will also be picking the right marketing mix. Is it going to be a market garden selling through a CSA (community-supported agriculture) box program or at the farmer’s market? Is it selling specialty products to restaurants or volumes of potatoes and leeks?
But let’s get back to the land—how can we help Sally? Ideally, she’s not attached to owning the land. Because unless she’s independently wealthy, she’ll have to become, say, an engineer or doctor first, then buy a nice little parcel of land once she decides to retire and start a hobby farm (don’t laugh, I know you are out there). Her other options are a) farming someone else’s land or b) forming or joining some kind of co-operative.
Co-operatives like the Land Conservancy (TLC) offer opportunities to match farmers with land, while protecting the land from being taken out of agricultural production. Joining a community farm also means farmers with different skill sets can come together to work the land collectively. One member may be the “marketing guru” with connections, and another may be the “motivator,” getting the field teams working together and with momentum. Yet another may be the “number nerd,” taking care of cash flow and equipment financing. The other nice thing about co-operatives is that they involve members of the community in gardening, harvesting, and food preservation, giving them a hands-on experience of sustainability in action.
In the city, farming other people’s backyards (in exchange for produce) is another way to get on the land. This is becoming increasingly popular. Sally would have the support of many landowners who wanted to see her business thrive.
So if farming is the song in your heart, there are many ways to get your hands dirty—whether you’re a marketing guru, a number nerd, or simply one who thrills at hard work and providing an invaluable service to society.
Got the farming bug? These organizations can help you find (or lend) a patch of earth.
City Farmer, cityfarmer.info
Farm Folk City Folk, ffcf.bc.ca
My Urban Farm, myurbanfarm.ca
Providence Farm, providence.bc.ca
The Land Conservancy, conservancy.bc.ca