Regenerate! Reflections on the 1st YA Alberta Winter Mixer

Posted by Dana Penrice on February 01, 2018

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Our hearts were filled and our minds inspired after the first 2-day Young Agrarians Alberta Winter Mixer! Thanks to everyone who came, to our speakers and to our sponsors. Here’s a little recap on the event. 

We opened the weekend by getting into the situation our food system is in today and more about the demographics of aspiring and young farmers.

  • There are 6% fewer farms in Alberta in 2016 as compared to 2011. In that time the average farm size grew (Source: StatsCanada)
  • Almost half of farm operators in Alberta reported having an off farm job in 2015
  • The average age of a farm operator in Alberta in 2016 was 55 years
  • 74% of farmers say they will sell their farm in the next 10 years (Source: Food Secure Canada)
  • In 2016, 8.5% of farms in Alberta had a written succession plan (Source: StatsCanada)
  • Number of farmers under 35 slightly up in 2016 Census (Source: StatsCanada)
  • In a survey of 1500 aspiring and new farmers across Canada, 68% of respondents don’t come from a farming background (Source: National Farmers Union)
  • In this same survey, 58% of aspiring and new farmer respondents are female (Source: National Farmers Union)
  • Despite the economic, social and ecological challenges facing farming today, aspiring and new farmers are motivated by the lifestyle, self-employment, ecological justice and social justice.
  • 73% of respondents of new farmer surveyed are farming ecologically (Source: National Farmers Union)

Time for a re-design

While these stats may seem daunting, our next presenter Takota Coen of Grass Roots Family Farm framed it in a hopeful light. “Three quarters of  of farmland will be coming under new management and 68% of those people don’t have bad habits.  We have a great opportunity ahead of us to re-design our system of agriculture in the next 10 years.” How do we navigate that on our farms? Check out Takota’s presentation here:

A big part of the mixer was making time for making connections. We were so excited to have people from as far north as Goodfare, AB and as far south as Lethbridge. This was a bit opportunity for people to share stories, share skills and share ideas.

Young Agrarians Networking
Olds College brewery student, Thecla Wiart and YA Apprentice, Joshua Bateman, discuss their biggest challenges in the coming year.

Put down the book and pick up the shovel!

Tristan and Aubyn Banwell from Spray Creek Ranch near Lillouette, BC shared their journey from aspiring farmers to full time farmers.

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They laid out things to consider and to be working on at each stage with a major step being the point when you need to pull your head out of those books to start getting your hands dirty. Experience is the ultimate teacher! Check out more of their tips here in their presentation slides. 

We each have a story to tell

Ian Griebel presenting to Young Agrarians audience
Ian Griebel of Redtail Farms shares their vision for collaboration, community and connection with consumers.

Marketing that feels good

Regenerative, ecological and organic farming have an amazing value proposition for consumers. We produce foods that prevent major diseases afflicting our society and the side effect is that we produce clean water, healthy soil, biodiveristy and so much more! Takota helps us use these insights to get over feeling bad about our marketing and start to really enjoy it!

Opportunities galore!

Cody Spencer of Sweetgrass Bison, didn’t ever think he’d be where he is today. With a passion for conservation and love of the prairie landscape, Cody became interested in the role of bison. Cody shared his journey from a coffee table book on bison, to meeting the author, to finding a gig on a bison ranch, to purchasing his own animals and growing his own herd.

With the unique ecology and land base of Alberta, there’s plenty of opportunity for all types of farming for new farmers. We often are told that accessing land and the expense of livestock is an insurmountable barrier but by building relationships, cultivating mentors, and gaining experience you might end up where you didn’t even dream!

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Farming finances

Kelly Sidoryk, Holistic Management Educator, got us thinking about setting up our financial systems and using financial planning to meet business and life goals. While most of us love the production side of farming, having the skills for financial management or partnering with someone who does is a must! You can find courses through www.holisticmanagement.ca and online courses through www.holisticmanagement.org

You’ve got land now what?

Market gardeners Moira Watson and Jodie Van Nistelrooy shared their considerations as they got started on their market garden near Lethbridge. They covered everything from goal setting to scale to bed design to zone to soil type to varieties to markets. They shared their crop planning considerations and spreadsheets available to help you get started. Moira and Jodie also shared their mistakes and successes and encouraged new farmers to track these challenges and successes as they are useful to look back to as the years go by.

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Big, big, big THANK YOU to everyone who came out to the event, to our speakers, our volunteers and especially to our sponsors who make this possible!

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