“Learning to Become a Farmer” is a recent report published by the FarmON Alliance, a provincially coordinated partnership of organizations with a mandate to support a new generation of viable, ecological and locally-oriented farms. The FarmON Alliance includes FarmStart, Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre, Farms at Work, Just Food and Eat Local Sudbury. The report summarizes an online survey, completed by over 430 individuals between 2009 and 2011, designed to identify the needs for agricultural training and educational resources for new farmers in Ontario.
This exploratory survey has helped build a profile of next generation farmers; their needs, hopes and challenges in seeking the training, information and infrastructure that will help them to succeed. The results provide indicators of areas that require further research and development as well as those to which there might be a more immediate response.
A majority (73%) of respondents were either in the planning stages or the first three years of farming. Also, 73% had no background in agriculture before exploring farming, taking training or choosing farming as a career. The majority of respondents (61%) were under the age of 40.
At the time of the survey, respondents were accessing training through workshops, field days, conferences, and volunteer experiences. Mentoring, internship experiences and kitchen table meetings were also popular ways of gaining new skills or knowledge. Respondents, while being a computer literate group, accessed agricultural information almost as often through personal contact with other farmers and peers, as through publications and online sources.
The number one challenge in accessing training and information, noted by 57% of respondents, was the cost associated with travel or overnight stays. A total of 41% of respondents also explicitly identified lack of regional access as a challenge. These findings highlight the importance and effectiveness of a regional approach to training new farmers, which limits travel and accommodation needs and contributes to building supportive farmer networks and mentoring opportunities.
Farmers teaching farmers either through mentoring or peer-to-peer opportunities, was indicated as critically important to new farmers. This type of learning opportunity becomes the difference between education that is ‘learning about’ farming and that which is ‘learning how to be’ a successful farmer. Ideally, respondents would like a self-directed, self-paced, supported progression of study that combines theory and practice; both informal and formal learning opportunities of various types, duration, and delivery modes; advanced and specific training delivered by practitioners; informal and formal farmer-to-farmer mentorship and training; as well as the continuous learning opportunities that come from a network of engaged peers.
To read the complete report visit http://www.farmstart.ca/publications/