On a Sunday at the end of March, around 50 new farmers from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick got together to learn from each other, share with each other, and enjoy good food together!
The first ever (hopefully not last) New Farmers of the Maritimes event (click on the link to the event to see more photos) was held at the Dieppe Market in Dieppe, NB. It was organized by a group of new farmers from all 3 provinces, with the help of Amanda, the executive director of the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick and Av Singh, the farm director of the Just Us! Centre for Small Farms in Nova Scotia.
I was one of the new farmer organizers and I can tell you, it was really cool to organize an event with other new farmers and farm supporters and see it happen…and happen successfully!
We set it up to have many short presentations, mostly panels, with time for discussion and questions afterwards. We left a fairly lengthy time for a potluck lunch for socializing and networking.
These were the topics we discussed with brief descriptions of each:
New Farmers. I was on this panel and I spoke about the results of the New Farmer survey (read my blog post about that here) as well as our personal access-to-capital story. Byron, PEI farmer from Thistle Dew Farm also spoke on this panel about his experience learning to farm, having not grown up on a farm.
The next session was on Land Access, given by Adam McLean who is farming at Holdanca Farm in NS but planning his own future farm business in PEI. Adam is passionate about pastured livestock and is going about planning his future farm in all the right ways. He has done a lot of research on different land access scenarios and is methodically seeking the right piece of land to meet his personal goals (as well as the goals of the current landowners).
After lunch, we had a Women’s Panel. Considering that close to 60% of new farmers are women, it was important to discuss issues that personally affect women farmers.
Cammie Harbottle of Waldegrave Farm spoke from the perspective of a woman who is also the sole owner of her business. A few years ago, when Cammie had her first child, she needed to figure out how to manage her farm during her pregnancy and after her baby was born. This season, she is pregnant with her second child and, with the experience and wisdom gained from her first pregnancy, has decided to have a slower farming season, mostly focused on selling wholesale. She’s basically creating her own kind of maternity leave, since those are not provided to the owners of farm businesses. Cammie spoke very frankly about the challenges and blessings of farming while pregnant and with a young child.
Eva Rehak, from Ferme Alva in NB spoke (in French…we had translation services available for English and French) about raising her 3 children on the farm. When she and her partner Alain started their farm their first daughter was a baby. Eva spoke about being a mom and a farmer and a partner. While there are many cool things for children on a farm, being available for your children all the time while farming is a challenge. And it’s not easy to find childcare in a rural area and pay the high hourly wage on a lower hourly wage as a farmer. I know how much our farm feels like a big child, I’m amazed at farmers like Eva and Alain who are also raising 3 young human children!
I also sat on this panel. I spoke about my experiences with some people who have assumed Bryan is “the farmer” and me “the farmer’s wife.” I spoke about going to apply for a loan or purchasing a tractor or attending a farm organization meeting and people (men) talking to and facing Bryan….until I would be the one to respond (I’m chattier than Bryan) and having them realize they’d need to face both of us. I spoke about telling another young farmer about how reliable our tractor is but how it wouldn’t adjust far enough forward for me to safely reach the pedals and him saying that so many tractors are designed in such sexist ways. I spoke about the challenge in finding good quality work wear. And as I spoke, I looked around the room and saw female heads nodding. I had Bryan stand up and stand next to me so people could see how different our body types were and that even on our farm, we needed to be always making sure that infrastructure was built with both of us in mind. This panel sparked later conversations, including the idea of a Winter Women Farmers Retreat. It was very clear to me how much this conversation needed to happen and needs to continue happening.
After that, we had a panel on Agroecology and Food Sovereignty. (The booklet pictured below was one of the handouts from this session, click here to read it online. The other handout was on Food Sovereignty, click here to read that one online).
Jordan MacPhee, from Maple Bloom Farm in PEI gave us the definitions of both terms then spoke on trade deals (the TPP and CETA specifically) and how they were basically creating policy that works against the principles of Food Sovereignty. In addition to being a new farmer, Jordan is also a student studying Political Science. He has used his time in academia for good, learning more about things that affect food, farming, and the environment. He is great at explaining complex (and often boring) topics like trade deals.
The majority of new farmers sell to (and want to continue selling to) local markets. Trade Deals can hurt local sales, in particular sales to local institutions like schools, because they require contracts to be opened up to any of the trading countries. So, if a province in Canada decides that local food procurement is important for their school system, Canada as a country can be sued by another country for “preferring” local food. This really limits the potential markets for farmers, especially considering how much people are starting to realize the benefits of local food.
Josh Oulton of Taproot Farms in Nova Scotia was also one of the speakers on this panel. He spoke about the challenge their farm had in sourcing non-gmo (genetically modified) grain for their meat CSA. They asked a bunch of different farmers to grow non-gmo grains for them and they all said it couldn’t be done. Mind you, they weren’t asking these farmers to grow organic grain, just non-gmo. Josh and his partner Patricia were finally able to convince a young farmer to grow non-GMO grain by promising to buy all the grain at the price he needed to make it work (which wasn’t cheap). That young farmer has been amazed at the higher yields and lower input costs (non-GMO seed is about half the price of GMO seed) which he never expected. Since Taproot Farms grows a lot of organic vegetables and has been transitioning more and more of their farm to organic every year, they have set a goal to certify their livestock as organic by 2020. And so, they’ve told that goal to the young, non-GMO grain farmer and he has agreed to grow organic grain by that target date as well! This is such a great story. Bryan and I are inspired by Josh and Patricia every time we talk to them. They are so great at making cool things like this happen!
After this, Rebeka Frazier-Chiasson from Ferme Terre Partagee spoke on Farming for Change. This was an empowering session, really about the idea that farming (and eating!) is a Political Act and that farmers have done a lot of innovative things over time so that their voices would not be lost in society’s move away from rural communities and away from farms. I know, for too many farmers, this aspect of farming, the speaking up and advocating for a fairer food system, is intimidating at best, and at worst, feels like a waste of time. But the fight for change has also inspired many to farm and to keep farming. Rebeka’s farmer is a farmer who has devoted much of his life to improving the food and farming systems. She shared stories she had heard from him and pictures from farmer political action across the Maritimes.
And, in order to share a concrete skill for making change, Carina Phillips, farmer and artist at Thistle Dew Farm in PEI, led a lesson in zine making. A zine is a homemade, inexpensive booklet or magazine. We collectively made one at the end of the day with participants making one or 2 pages each (about anything…their personal farming story, pictures, comics, jokes, collages, thoughts from the day) that Carina will put together and send out to each participant. It seems like such a great idea for the end of the day in any workshop or conference…imagine a session on carrot-growing with each farmer making a small page with their own tips, tricks, favourite varieties, recipes….on how they grow carrots. What a priceless collection of zines we could create to share our collective knowledge!
Bryan and I had a great time at this event. We feel a strong need to connect with other farmers and know the benefits of it especially when first starting out. Events like these help us to feel part of a community and re-invigorated by passionate people with similar dreams to ours. Oftentimes sharing our struggles and successes will help other farmers and can create lasting connections or solutions. I’m looking forward to attending more events like this in the future! If you’re interested in events like this, sign up to get the online newsletter of the NFU-NB. Even as a farmer in Nova Scotia, who is also a member of the NS Federation of Agriculture, I have found this newsletter to be a great resource.