We’re thrilled to be working with young farmer Ayla Fenton from Ontario. Ayla is coordinating a Young Agrarians mixer in her area fall 2014. For more info on the event – check out this blog post: Young Agrarians Eastern Ontario Mixer This profile first appeared on the National Farmers Union blog.
Name: Ayla Fenton
Farm name: Manager at Roots Down Organic Farm
Location: Near Kingston, ON
What do you produce? Lots and lots of vegetables!
Size of farm? 100+ acre forested property, 15 acres cultivated
Number of years farming? 2
Farming background? I grew up in the suburbs, but my parents cultivated a love of the outdoors from a very early age with frequent camping trips across the country. I did well in school, went to university and got a degree in biology, and most of the people around me seemed to expect that I should become a doctor, scientist, or something of the like. Before a few years ago, I had not even considered the possibility of farming as a career – I had simply never been exposed to the idea.
After graduating, I lived in downtown Toronto for two years working a desk job. I took the money I saved and travelled for almost a year, including a four-month cycling trip in Southeast Asia. When I returned, the city felt stifling and I couldn’t stand the thought of going back to a “regular” (read: indoor) job. Whilst unemployed and trying to find a job I thought I might enjoy, I had a lot of time to think about my future and what I really wanted to do with my life. I had become very interested in food system issues, having studied ecology and food security at school and read some great books on the topic. This, combined with my complete obsession with food and my newfound sense of restlessness, led me to contact a farmer I had met a few years earlier on a whim. He offered me an internship position, and I immediately accepted. I didn’t know where it would lead me, but I knew that there was no way I would ever regret the experience.
In my second season now, I am working as the Harvest and Marketing Manager. Farming has been so much more than I ever could have expected, in many different ways. I love working outdoors and don’t think I will ever get over the magic of watching plants grow. But it’s really the community and social aspects of farming that have surprised me. I have met so many wonderful and inspiring people and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without them.
How do you market your product? We have a 100-member CSA and we sell at farmers markets in Kingston, Brockville, Ottawa and Gananoque. We are also a major supplier for Wendy’s Mobile Market, an innovative and wonderful local business that connects producers in our area to local restaurants, grocers, and individual consumers.
What’s next for you? I’m really eager to get some experience working with animals. My dream is to someday operate a fully integrated mixed farm. It seems to me that one of the most fundamental problems in our modern agricultural system is the separation of plants and animals – a separation that never exists in nature, and for good reason. We humans have tried to co-opt nature, and it’s not working very well: animal farmers purchase plant-based products produced off-farm to feed their animals, and plant farmers purchase expensive synthetic fertilizers, which have devastating environmental impacts in addition to diminishing our already meagre profit margins. So I would love to spend some time working on mixed farms that are trying to close the gap.
I also want to work on engaging young people from non-farming backgrounds and exposing farming as a viable and fulfilling occupation. I wish someone had done that for me ten years ago!
What book changed your world? The Omnivore’s Dilemna, by Michael Pollen. Reading this book several years ago was really my first introduction to how messed up our food system is.
Favourite farm tool? My hands 🙂
Why did you join the National Farmers Union? An older farmer in my area invited me to the annual convention in 2013. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I fell in love! Some of the most intelligent and inspiring people I have ever met working so hard to make our world a better place – how could I not join?
What advice do you have for aspiring farmers? Work hard, but don’t forget to take care of yourself.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Bacon – but I suppose I don’t feel all that guilty about it, really.