Geographer leads project to bring new breed of farmers to the land
BY ANDREW VOWLES – at Guelph
A longtime business consultant stands in a field within view of a new shopping complex and a busy highway in north Guelph and surveys his freshly planted hops and barley. A Sikh immigrant in a Toronto grocery store cocks her eyebrow at produce trucked in from who-knows-where. In U of G’s Hutt Building , a 28-year-old newish mom who’s doing a master’s degree in geography arrives at her desk. These are the new faces of farming in Canada ?
“There’s a whole new breed of people coming to farm,” says graduate student Christie Young, a Toronto-born-and-bred social activist who has big plans to shake up how we grow and provide food. The self-described “do-er” is studying nascent food markets and ways to help new farmers — particularly immigrant and second-career farmers — meet consumer needs.
But Young, herself a sometime farmer in France , is hardly sitting around waiting for the data. Leading a brand-new incubator project in Guelph called FarmStart, she is now eyeing two more locations for similar plots near Toronto where immigrant Southeast Asian farmers might one day learn to produce food for a few of the city’s masses. Call it “smart farming” — and perhaps a way for Young to channel any lingering anger and angst from her undergraduate days at McGill University, when she first began to look closely at how food is grown and distributed in this country and was appalled by what she saw.
These days, others see not anger but passion, determination and drive. Standing in a former orchard at the Jesuit-run Ignatius Centre in Guelph, FarmStart program manager Mike Shook describes her as “pretty amazing, a visionary. She’s networked into the local food system. She’s just full of ideas.”