On January 26th and 27th the Young Agrarians hosted the first ever Young Farmer Mixer at Summerhill Winery in Kelowna, BC. Although I am passionate about all things to do with local food, I am not a farmer by any stretch. So I cleverly disguised myself as a facilitator and through that role I had the great opportunity to mix with some of the province’s most bold and beautiful farmers.
There were organic farmers from Vancouver Island, roof-top urban farmers from Vancouver, orchardists and SPIN farmers from the Okanagan, new farmers from the North Okanagan, seasoned farmers from the Thompson River. There were also young people who recently took over their family’s farms and many more interpretations of the term agrarian.
We started with an opening circle during which everyone was asked to share their name, the location where they were farming and what they were passionate about. Not surprisingly, the list looked a lot like this:
The list of passions went on to include Mother Nature, Ski Touring and more. We had a couple of Skill-Sharing Sessions, milling activities, a dance party, story telling, speed dating and an Open Conference. Despite the playfulness of the weekend, the issues we discussed were often serious. The role of young farmers in Canada’s food production is tremendously important and having an open space to foster those passions, share skills and discuss collective issues was essential.
Indeed, data from the 2011 Census of Agriculture show that Canadian farmers have never been older and the total number of farmers in Canada is declining rapidly. The 2011 data shows that farmers in the 55-and-over age category make up the highest percentage (48.3%) of total operators and just 8.2% of operators are younger than 35 years old.
Without going into the census details, let’s just say that farmers, young and old, are producing what is most essential to us. Beyond beans and potatoes, kale and corn, they are also producing some of the most delicious value added products – salsa, honey, mead, wine, bread and blackberry jam.
Throughout the weekend’s sessions and activities I had the pleasure mingling with the farmers and of tasting some delicious local food and drink, thanks to all the food donations (Salt Spring Coffee, Anita’s Organic Mill, Urban Harvest Organic Delivery, Okanagan Grocery, Green City Acres, Covert Farms, Claremont Ranch Organics, Jerseyland Organics, and Crannog Ales).
Furthermore, I was delighted to be invited to host a Pro Action Cafe workshop to help some of the farmers develop their ideas/projects/goals. My thought was that the Pro Action Cafe could be useful for farmers because it’s a methodology that helps to accelerate ideas for new projects (whether it’s a new composting system they need help developing, a new marketing approach, a new way to heat their greenhouse sustainably, etc.) by tapping into the collective intelligence of the group that is there.
Six people called up their projects and for two hours the group collaborated with the callers to help them develop their ideas. The PreservationFarm (a UBC Okanagan student initiative) and Quality Farms were two of the projects we discussed and worked on. All of the participants seemed to get some great ideas and clarification of what their next steps should be. These conversations and the weekend in general, left me feeling excited for Spring and a deep sense of gratitude for the growers, the event organizers and other participants who willingly shared their skills, stories and expertise.
For a full set of pictures check out flikr, and for more pictures and stories about the farmers visit Vittles. For more on community engagement and research in the Okanagan check out my blog. Thanks for reading!
Photos by Jean-Luc Parrhesia