I’m a lucky farmer.
Not only do I get to farm, I get to work with other farmers, foodies and agriculture enthusiasts. In March, 2014, I had the enormous privilege of organizing the Young Agrarians Spring Farmer Mixer for Vancouver Island & the Gulf Islands. The Mixer was a hands-on, practical farmer education and networking event in Nanoose Bay.
Once the gathering was over, I dove directly into my own farm life, inspired and energized by the workshops and people I met and the practical ideas and skills I learned. I’ve been so busy farming this past month and a half, but it’s important to me to share some of what we explored at the Mixer.
We hosted over 85 farmers, farm-supporters and presenters at our Vancouver Island and Gulf Islands Young Agrarian’s Spring Farmer Mixer. The people who came through our doors were experienced farmers, gardeners, permaculturists, cooks, community activitists, and those important farm-curious folks (the ones who are our future farmers.)
Why do we need Young Farmer Mixers?
Once upon a time, agriculture, hunting and/or gathering were things most people were involved with, on some level. Family farms flourished and knowledge was passed down through generations about how to raise food.
In 2014, we find ourselves in a society that is dangerously disconnected from food production. We truck in our food from California (which is now experiencing extraordinary drought) and other far away places. Youth who have the farming itch have a host of incredible challenges ahead of them, if they want to make a career of farming. One of the major challenges is access to community and farm education.
Young Agrarians Farmer Mixers provide a venue for hands-on learning and peer networking to happen. We keep hearing from participants that they made lasting connections with other farmers, and that they learned critical knowledge and skills from formal workshops and informal discussion time with other people who are farming just like them.
Young farmers, especially those who live in rural areas, experience a high degree of isolation. Throughout the weekend, I heard again and again from young farmers that the best part of the gathering was being in the company of other farmers. It’s so important for us to share our experiences, innovations, successes and heart-breaking failures with others who can understand from experience.
Once we know we’re in like-minded company, the conversation starts to gently explore the edges of our shared experience and sniff out the things we can learn from each other. And we really can learn a lot from each other.
A multi-generational farming community is beginning to emerge – our Mixer on Vancouver Island provided lots of opportunities for farming families to engage, learn and network.
National Farmers Union Youth
We coordinated with the National Farmers’ Union Youth Caucus who were hosting their annual retreat nearby. It was a blessing and an honour to have these smart, educated and inspired young farmers at our gathering.
The NFU youth presented an engaging panel discussion on Saturday evening about the benefits of National Farmers’ Union membership, about what the NFU is working on politically, and told us about their farm operations across Canada – from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia!
Besides the rich tapestry of young farmers to learn from, we had some knowledgeable and experienced presenters who shared wisdom and practical ideas about a wide variety of topics relevant to beginners and more seasoned farmers, including:
- Developing a marketing plan (with Vancity)
- Soil test analysis 101
- Organic Certification 101
- Soil science 101
- Soil re-mineralization
- Small tool care and sharpening
- Permaculture on small farms
- Encouraging wild pollinators
- Bookkeeping for farmers
- Hands-on seed cleaning demo
- Hands-on seeding and soil-blocking
- Innovative livestock operations
- Land access models and tools
- Accupressure and massage for farmers
- Moon planting
(Above) Art Bomke, UBC Agriculture professor (left) with Foster Richardson from The Birds & The Beans in Comox (right) discussing soil test analysis.
(Above) And they came prepared with the real thing – concrete examples!
(Above) Getting focused at the hands on seed cleaning demo.
(Above) Local seed-saving rock star, Robin Sturley, demonstrates how she clean seeds with affordable gear for her Cowichan Valley-based small seed business, Edible Earth Seeds.
A lot of farmers need opportunities to learn practical skills like small tool sharpening and care. Above, Rob Rhodes shows participants how to dismantle and sharpen pruning shears. He also taught us how to clean and sharpen hand tools such as shovels and hoes.
We also hosted a tool share show & tell area, a seed swap and a library.
Participants enjoyed fabulous locally-sourced whole foods all weekend, thanks to our cooks Heather & Heather!
We had incredibly generous donations from Vancouver Island farms like Eisenhawer Organic Farm, as well as from local businesses. Thanks to our amazing food sponsors!!
Upon reflection, the impact of creating young farmer community is growing in my mind and heart. I know that continuing to gather and network young farmers will contribute to the revitalization of small-scale, ecological agriculture. Last year, the UN released a report stating that “an estimated 2.5 billion people who manage 500 million smallholder farm households provide over 80 per cent of the food consumed in much of the developing world.” I believe this will be true in what is now known as North America someday, and I’m so glad I get to be a part of making that happen.
Thanks to our sponsor
Many thanks to our major sponsor, Vancity, for supporting the education, networking and growth of young farmers in our island communities. Our Mixer couldn’t have happened without their generous support.