The future of food systems lies in the hands of our next generation of farmers — but what do we do when our future farmers don’t have access to land? Young Agrarians (YA) hopes to offer solutions that will bridge the gap between landholders and land seekers with two Land Linking Workshops coming to Leduc County later this year.
These online workshops are being modelled off of the YA B.C. Land Matching Program, which provides personalized land matching and business support services for both farmers looking for land to start or expand their farm and landholders interested in finding someone to farm their land.
The workshops in partnership with Leduc County, Lac Ste. Anne County and the City of Leduc are part of a program, supported by the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, to bring a similar land matching program to Alberta, alongside the help of Alberta Land Access Coordinator, Melisa Zapisocky. “Through the two workshops, YA hopes to provide a space for landowners and land seekers to share their stories and identify the next steps in their land access journey,” states Melisa. Violet Bretin and Ella Chesterman are two examples of landowners in Leduc County who are exploring ideas in how they can share their land with other farmers.
Violet Bretin, known in her community as “Vi,” owns a property one mile from the City of Leduc that was purchased in 1983 with her late husband Vern. During his time on the property, Vern planted more than 4,000 trees to protect the land against ever-changing environmental factors such as wind and sun. The property contains five, two-acre plots, each surrounded by these trees and has everything a farmer needs to get started; there’s a cooler, washing facilities, tractors, and farm tools that are ready to be used on the farm.
The pair ran a market garden and u-pick operation, but since Vern’s passing last winter, Vi is hoping to turn to new, experienced farmers to take on these plots as their own. “I don’t want them to be working for me. I want them to be independent, and it would be their responsibility to produce the crops,” Vi explains. She plans on continuing to live on the property, working on smaller projects such as her rose garden.
Nearby lives Ella Chesterman, a business consultant who owns eight acres of land in Leduc County. She met a young couple who worked in the restaurant industry in 2020 and hired them for some paid work on the farm. “We got along famously,” she says, describing her relationship with the couple. Over time, it evolved into a unique land-sharing opportunity — Ella provided the land, tools and equipment and the couple provided the labour. After drafting an agreement, they successfully shared the land and the profits were split. “They got educated, I got educated,” Ella explained.
Ella is dedicated to building a community — a network for farmers. She loves to talk about the bigger picture, the sharing of knowledge, and bringing together people who are working with the land.
“How are we going to grow our food in that landscape?” she questions, speaking on the changing conditions due to climate change. She continues, “When I asked myself that question, the only thing that comes to mind is [that] we have to do things differently. And we have to talk to one another and we have to learn from each other. And we have to start networking in different ways, and building better communities.”
She envisions being able to support four, full-time couples on her property. During this season, the couple made a good living farming on a quarter of the land that was available. Ella is open to other options too — there’s an additional three acres in pasture available for a potential livestock farmer. “I’m open. And I think when you are open, and you just speak what you’re looking for, whatever is perfect will show up,” she says, explaining her philosophy of finding suitable land seekers.
Vi and Ella are just two examples of landholders in Leduc County who are looking to open up their properties to the right land seekers. Through the Land Linking Workshops, Leduc County, Lac Ste. Anne County, the City of Leduc and Young Agrarians hope to build a network for others in similar positions at upcoming online events offered on November 24 and December 1, 2021.
Registration opens on October 23 through Leduc County. Read more about the events here: https://youngagrarians.org/alberta-land-linking/