An overview of FarmStart’s programs (by Sustain Ontario)
Skills Building Farm Tours and On-Farm Courses
FarmStart offered a variety of farm tours and on-farm business development courses, which provide new farmers the opportunity to visit a variety of different farm businesses and operations, learn from experienced farmers, and connect with peer and mentor farmers. Our Skills Building Farm Tours included series on Vegetable Production, Pastured Livestock, and Value-Added and Processing (eg. beekeeping, wool processing, butchery) and featured a wide range of ecological farms in Southern Ontario. On-Farm courses include topics such as The Dirt On Soil, Pastured Pigs and Poultry, Greenhouse Production, Bee Keeping, Small Equipment and Weed Management, Cover Cropping and more.
On farm and farmer to farmer training opportunities are now being offered by the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario.
Digging into Farming
Our Digging into Farming course was a low-cost starting-point that encouraged serious prospective farmers to adopt an active planning approach, develop individual training plans, access resources and professional advisors, and acquire the skills they need to launch successful farm businesses. The Program was developed from numerous consultations and collaborations with OMAFRA, OSCIA, various regional partner organizations and a range of new and prospective farmers
The central course outcome was a New Farm Action Plan reviewed and signed off by the course facilitator identifying next steps to be taken with regards to 46 different business planning and production topics. This Action Plan was completed and approved through an online platform which can be used as a working and evolving document for the new farmers as they progress, with a Regional FarmStart Coach supporting the new farmer to take advantage of the range of business planning, technical skills building, mentorship, financial planning and other training and development opportunities.
FarmStart used this course and Action Plan as a prerequisite for our Start-Up Farm Programs. It could also be linked to cost-share funding for new entrants who do not yet have a farm business, but demonstrate commitment and investment.
This course is now offered as a less detailed webinar series at Farmlink.net.
Over the last 10 years FarmStart has been developing Incubator Farm facilities that allow new farms to get their farm businesses off the ground, to test products and practices, gain experience, identify markets and build their capacity. Start-Up / Incubator Farms provide new farmers with access to land, infrastructure, and equipment as well as technical training, business planning skills development, and mentorship during the first 6 years of their enterprise start-up.
Farmers can also access coaches, mentors, business development and production advice and resources, technical training and farm succession support. The farmers cooperate by sharing equipment and markets as well as growing techniques and experiences, all of which contribute to their learning and success in farming.
Perhaps more than anything, within a Start-Up Farm, the new farmers find a supportive community of farmers who can provide some practical and moral support as they learn the hard business of farming. We can’t make it easy, but we can aim to make the path to farming a little more accessible., a little less risky, a lot less lonely.
FarmStart’s Facilities have included:
- Training Farms providing a curriculum based program with flexible internship opportunities,
- A supportive Incubator Farm Facility providing small independent plots of land for aspiring farmers to get their farm businesses idea off the ground,
- A shared Business Development Facility for Enterprise stage farmers who need more land and longer tenure to develop their farm businesses.
- Small non-commercial allotment garden plots have also proven very popular and they also create valuable public engagement, community building and public health benefits.
Our goal was to develop an effective Start-Up Farm business model in which new farmers pay a progressive fee structure that supports their start-up phase but prevents them from developing non-viable production techniques and business plans. The farmers’ revenues were designed to be able to carry the operating, repair and improvement costs of the farm. But they are not able to contribute anything for the Program management or organization core.
Community Partners: We made some of the land on site available to community groups to run their own farm projects – for example a local youth project, or a community/cultural co-op farm. We provided them with land, infrastructure and other support at varying fees. We have found the interaction between youth and other community members and our new farmers on the site are of incredible valuable for all.
Our Farm Facilities are being managed by the land owners now. If you are looking for land to rent on a facility such as this please contact:
- Toronto and Region Conservation Authority if you are looking for near urban farm land in the GTA.
- If you are looking for allotment plots in Brampton contact Greenpeasorganic.com
- The Farm: Earth to Table in the Hamilton area.
- Ignatius Centre in Guelph.
- For other areas – check out our matchmaking platform at www.farmlink.net
Farm Viability Training
FarmStar’s Farm Viability Series was developed and piloted with support from AMI in 2015 – 2016. The series includes a structured and progressive set of webinars and workshops that engage new farmers to develop realistic and dynamic business plans and integrate effective business management practices and tools.
The in-class workshops were developed and delivered by farmer trainers. Topics include: Record Keeping; Personal & Enterprise Budgeting; Planning for Profit; Fearless Whole-Farm Finances; Equity, Financing, and Land. Participants are asked to bring their computers and records so that they can work through their own business finances during the course. They are provided a areity of pre-formatted excel sheets, workbooks and a variety of examples.
Webinars were designed to complement the technical tools and course content with practical stories and practices of farmers. have included a range of farmer and professional presenters focusing on a range of related issues. They included: Mind Your Business by Richard Wiswall, Get Ahead of Debt by James Craig of FCC, What It’s Worth by Chris Blanchard and Land Access webinars profiling a range of start up pathways.