Are you an aspiring farmer looking to gain experience on urban farms, learn about soil health, work with multicultural communities, and create opportunities for people to grow their own food – all the while growing nutrient-dense food for CSA programs, Farmers Markets, and restaurants? Well then, join this trifecta of urban regenerative farms across Calgary! Michael Gavin of Root and Regenerate, Rod Olson of Leaf & Lyre, and Josh Spackman of Chef’s Farmer are offering a diverse apprenticeship shared between their farms.
About the Farms
Root & Regenerate Urban Farms (formerly Dirtboys Urban Farm) has been running for about 8 years, though this is the fourth year that Michael has been running the farm. The goal of Root & Regenerate is to grow produce for the Calgary community, which is mainly sold through a Community Supported Agriculture program as well as through the YYCGrowers farming co-op. Another goal is to help community members in Calgary grow their own food. This is mainly through building and consulting on people’s gardens as well as giving workshops, farm tours, and having conversations with members and visitors. Root & Regenerate produces a wide range of vegetables, some flowers, and some seed for CSA members.
Leaf & Lyre Urban Farms began as Calgary’s first Spin Farm and now manages a 30 acre community farm on public land called the Land of Dreams. The central design of the farm is shaped as a medicine wheel as a way to signal the need and desire to partner with the local Indigenous community. As a regenerative project they are looking to see their agriculture practices bridge the gap between foraging (traditional for this area) and production through regenerative means. The Land of Dreams is a multicultural farming experience that brings together community, social connection, and food while working with recently arrived immigrants and refugees. It is a meaningful space for Calgary newcomers to rekindle their roots and build a sense of community while learning about and appreciating Alberta’s Indigenous history.
Chef’s Farmer is an urban vegetable farm comprising 1/4 acre of donated backyards in Calgary. They produce loads of fresh greens for salad mix and an assortment of other favorite vegetables like carrots, beets, and tomatoes, all-the-while practicing no-dig and no-till farming methods to prioritize healthy soil. Chef’s Farmer takes ideas from famous farms and farmers like Curtis Stone, Richard Perkins, and Neversink Farms and implements them in the context of an urban farm in Calgary.
About the Apprenticeship
Two apprentices will be selected for this apprenticeship, which means they will get a diverse experience at 3 different operations!
Root and Regenerate: In the spring, the apprentices will help with planting, prepping plots, and doing garden builds/consulting. Once summer rolls around, the work entails garden maintenance, harvesting, and planting. Come fall, the apprentice will help Michael put garden plots to rest, finish harvests, end-of-season odd jobs, and garden building/consulting.
The apprentice will work in both aspects of Root and Regenerate, which include urban farming as well as garden building and consulting. The apprentice will take part in consultations with clients, help with design and plant selection, and learn to build raised and in-ground gardens. For the urban farming operation, they will take part in all of the growing and maintenance aspects of the farm such as growing starts, transplanting, weeding, new plot creation, harvesting, washing/packaging, crop planning, and microgreen production. They will also get to learn about running a CSA program and farmers markets, and learn what it is like being a member of a farming co-operative, in this case, YYC Growers. They will be part of farm tours and other miscellaneous projects like building compost bins and bird houses.
Leaf & Lyre/Land of Dreams: The apprentices will help with soil prep, planting, and daily tasks of feeding and weeding that are ongoing throughout the season. Planting and tending bushes and shrubs will be a big priority in the spring and summer. Experimentation is key at the Land of Dreams as we attempt to join nature in her recovery and regeneration. Every Friday is Farm day at the community farm so there will be work to do and assistance offered to participants based on what is happening at individual plots. Water is currently being trucked into the farm; while this will continue in 2022, Leaf & Lyre wants to develop a more sustainable solution and welcomes input by the apprentices. Apprentices will work with the City of Calgary on a Farmer’s Market hosted on site. Weed pressure will require focused attention, and this might include policy work in the form of changing their lease to allow grazing animals to pass through (such as weeding goats). There is space for particular passions and research interests of the apprentice to see materialized in the apprenticeship as well.
The Land of Dreams is a multicultural farming experience so a willingness to do cultural work and learn alongside our Indigenous elders is key.
Chef’s Farmer: In the spring, an apprentice will take part in bed preparation and help install irrigation, including retrofitting several overhead watering systems with drip irrigation. There’s also a good chance that they will be involved in the construction of a new walk-in cooler. They will help with all of the typical vegetable farming activities including seeding and transplanting, harvesting, and post-harvest activities. Mid-to-late summer will be a constant stream of harvesting, planting, washing, and deliveries. Building compost bins will also be on the roster.
As part of the apprenticeship, you will meet with other apprentices across Alberta who are part of the Young Agrarians Apprenticeship program. Field days, learning opportunities and potlucks will be planned with this group at each host’s farm.
About the Mentors
Michael Gavin has a background in ecology and has worked on projects looking at the impacts of agricultural landscapes on pollinator populations, which eventually led him to begin farming. Michael sees the need for more people to be growing high quality food intensively on smaller land plots, and the opportunity for food production in urban spaces.
Josh Spackman is an engineer-turned-farmer. He has 4 years of experience designing HVAC and plumbing systems, but he is especially experienced in building energy modelling. He is currently working as an Energy Advisor full time, and he will continue with this career part time during farming season. Josh switched to farming in order to get his hands dirty in building a better and more resilient local food community. He has one full year of farming under his belt and is excited about hitting the ground running in year two.
Rod Olson is one of the original Urban Farmers in Calgary and is a founding member of YYC Growers – some refer to him as ‘the Rodfather’. Rod is passionate about the soil and its potential as a compelling, living system to take us confidently into the future. As a regenerative farmer, Rod is excited about the promise these practices have for increasing water-holding capacity, reversing climate change, increasing biodiversity, and increasing the nutrient density of our food. Rod is always ready for meaningful conversation, for connecting people with their highest potential despite any ecological grief they may be encountering. Rod is currently overseeing a soil baseline project with multiple farms in Southern Alberta and is happy to inspire apprentice’s with these learnings and insights.
Skills these farms have to teach:
The following skills are being offered by this farm. While you’ll get exposure to many of these areas, it is likely that not all will be covered. Apprentices will work to identify the skills they want to develop through a learning plan with the host farms.
|urban agriculture||COMMUNITY GARDEN FACILITATION|
|COMMUNITY SUPPORT AGRICULTURE MODEL||microgreen production|
|farming/MARKETING co-operativELY||crop planning|
|FARMERS MARKET SALES||starts/transplanting|
|building/creating gardens||vegetable harvesting/washing/packaging|
|consultation process||MULTICULTURAL ENGAGEMENT|
|garden design + planning||COMPOST/SOIL AMMENDMENTS|
Housing, Stipend and Duration
This apprenticeship takes place within the city of Calgary, so while there is no on-site housing, there are many opportunities for renting. Between the farms, the apprentice will receive extra/left-over produce, and will be fed if working at The Land of Dreams on Fridays. This apprenticeship is approximately 5-6 months, and the apprentice will receive a wage.
About the Community
Calgary has a great local food community with lots of people involved in different projects from urban farming to community gardens and lots of restaurants interested in supporting the local food movement. When you’re here be sure to check out some of those awesome restaurants; one which Gavin recommends is The Allium – a worker cooperative with great local vegetarian dishes and libations!
The summer in Calgary is never complete without hanging out at the river or going on a rafting trip in the sun. There is an awesome music scene with shows and festivals throughout the summer.
Deadline to apply: January 31, 2023.
Interested in an Apprenticeship but this isn’t quite the right one? Check out other Young Agrarians Alberta Apprenticeships being offered in 2023 here.