For Ryan Hayhurst, the evidence of the precariousness of the modern food system is everywhere.
Driving on the 401 in his biodiesel-fueled car Friday, the 34-year-old Guelph resident was surrounded by long-haul trucks carrying mass-produced, chemical-treated produce to market.
“I’m staring at a large refrigerated food truck,” said Hayhurst, a PhD student in environmental design and rural development at the University of Guelph. “I’m sure every other truck out here is a food truck.”
He hopes the transition to local, organic farming will happen soon. In Guelph, he’s part of a movement of young urban farmers trying to make “soon” happen now.
In May, he and a broad network of local organizations, companies and individuals took over a vacant field behind the Salvation Army Citadel at the corner of Gordon Street and Arkell Road in Guelph’s south end, sowing the seeds for what has since become the Peri-Urban Farming Project, a bustling five-acre farm.
The concept of urban farming “dates back centuries and millennia, back to the very beginning,” Hayhurst said. “By no means did I invent the wheel here. It’s really just about recognizing an opportunity to create capacity for people to feed themselves where they are.”
Meanwhile. with the resurgence of urban farming in Ontario, demand is rising for cheap, arable land.
In response, Guelph non-profit FarmStart, along with the Ontario Farmland Trust and the Kawartha Heritage Conservancy, has created FarmLINK Ontario.
“It’s kind of like a matchmaking website for landowners and land seekers,” explained Monika Korzun, new farmer co-ordinator for FarmStart, which helps young, aspiring farmers get their feet wet in the business.
The majority of the 700 people who have signed onto FarmLINK so far are land seekers, Korzun said. “Very formal relationships happen there, like buying, leasing, renting, as well as very informal things,” such as mentorship and training, she said.
FarmStart also trains new farmers at an “incubator farm” in Brampton, and similar enterprises may be coming soon to Scarborough and Cambridge.
“For those who have trouble finding land, and don’t want to move up north where they have no ties to the community, this is a very good choice for them,” Korzun said. “The land is there, the machinery is there, the irrigation. We also have a farm manager on site.” After six years of apprenticeship, young farmers decide whether agriculture is for them. “If it is, then you move onto your own farm.”
According to FarmStart, the average Ontario farmer is getting old and looking to sell or transfer their operations in the coming years, creating a “very real problem for the Canadian domestic food supply.”