The fresh, young face of farming
The newest back-to-the-landers are a little different from the wave of idealists who decided to go rural in the 1970s
MARIAN SCOTT, The Gazette
It’s Friday afternoon, and the five members of the Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm, 50 kilometres west of Montreal, are packing fresh-picked produce to sell at two open-air markets the next morning.
“Two hundred cukes for Finnegan’s?” shouts Emily Board, as she rinses fresh-picked cucumbers and packs them into plastic bins.
“Sounds good,” responds Reid Allaway.
Up since 6 a.m., the farmers, age 27 to 31, will have toiled for almost 12 hours by the time they lay down their weary heads to sleep.
They founded the co-operative market garden four years ago, after graduating in agriculture from McGill University.
Of the five, not one comes from a farming background. All passionately believe more producers their age need to repopulate the countryside.
SO YOU THINK YOU’D LIKE TO FARM?
For anyone interested in taking the leap to becoming a farmer, Reid Allaway and the team at Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm offer these tips:
– Spend lots of time planning.
– Spend at least one season as an apprentice on another farm like the one you’d like to operate.
– Aim for direct marketing whenever possible (farmers’ markets, CSA basket programs, direct sales meat, food buying clubs, etc.), thus ensuring that every dollar spent on your products is yours.
– Assemble a strong business plan and use it to leverage start-up grants or wage support for start-up period.
– Budget carefully for start-up and establishment phases, making modest investments as necessary but maintaining solvency.
– Follow organic production rules and certify your farm organic as rapidly as possible.
– Pursue rental or barter agreements for land but protect yourself with legal leases or contracts.
– Find a way to live on the farm or very close by.
– Barter your labour or abilities against other goods or services when possible.
– Get to know your neighbours; they can rapidly become strong supporters and powerful allies.
– Keep lots and lots of records during the growing season, aka learning from your successes and mistakes.
– Aim for exceptional quality and freshness in all your products.
– Learn to live simply, thus avoiding need for off-farm income in establishment years.
– If you’re building a greenhouse or walk-in fridge (cold room) build as large as you can afford at the time – you’ll grow into it.
– Target markets at great distance or offer home delivery – farm tasks can’t get done if you’re stuck in traffic.
– Take the first land opportunity you find unless you know it’s ideal. Shop around and learn about soils, communities, resources, etc. before committing to put down roots.
– Enter into binding working partnerships with people you’ve never worked with before.
– Work 80-plus hours per week unless that is what you really want.
– Let weeds get ahead of you or produce seed.
– Spend a whole lot of money on a tractor, new or used, until you know what you really need.
– Take on debt or an off-farm job to service debt.
– Undercut other farmers’ prices at market.