Young FarmersYoung Agrarians gather for a photo at their first wildly successful conference at Summerhill Winery in Kelowna.
Some people say young people have no dedication or work ethic. They obviously haven’t met the youth who want into farming, but don’t know how to get their fingers in the dirt in the face of rising land costs coupled with stiff competition from subsidized markets.
Young Agrarians are trying to help.
“We want to get more young people involved in farming and getting into agriculture in whatever way interests them. You need to try it out to see if it is something you want to do,” says Sara Dent. “It is not an easy career path.”
Actually, there are plenty of young people out there who would love to be farmers – they’re just looking for a way to get in.
Dent is one of them.
She’s young, passionate about life, and loves working the land. As a photographer, she finds art in every living thing. After years of travelling around to different farms and connecting with farmers, Sara is now the coordinator for the Young Agrarians, in partnership with FarmFolk CityFolk.
She explains how the group came about. “A few years ago, I met Seann Dory, the co-founder of SOLEfood Street Farms. He and Michael Ableman turned a half-acre parking lot on Hastings and Hawks streets on the downtown east-side of Vancouver into a portable farm.”
Dent, Dory and others were becoming big fans of a group called The Greenhorns, a non-traditional grassroots nonprofit organization made up of young farmers and collaborators in the United States. “They’ve worked extensively with the National Young Farmers Coalition, which has a bill in the senate to advocate for new entrants into agriculture,” explains Dent. “Seann was so excited about them and what they were doing, he wrote a proposal to the National Farm Union Youth Network. It was presented in the spring of 2011 and they were excited about the idea of the Young Agrarians; we just didn’t know how to make it happen.”
By September of 2011, they had a much better idea. Dent, well known for her fundraising efforts, pitched the project to her business network and found people to help. By January of 2012, Young Agrarians was official. Dent wrote several successful grant applications and now has switched the majority of her time and effort to the growth and success of the group. “I was a bit bummed at first, because I wasn’t farming any more, but I call this digital farming.”
The Young Agrarians are very much a digital community. Most of their networking and support is done online. They have online and offline community-building projects where young farmers can network. “In the online sphere, it is a media presence for the young ecological farm movement,” says Dent. “Offline, we have an ongoing series of potlucks where people meet on each others farms and do skill shares and work bees. Sometimes there is music and as the warmer months roll around people can show up and camp on a farm.”
They did their first young farmer mixer in January 2013 at Summerhill Winery in Kelowna. “We had people there for two days and had workshops on land access and marketing,” says Dent. “We had a First Nations story teller come and tell us traditional stories. We did some open conference stuff. It was an experiment for us; the first time we’d pulled people together in this way.”
In the few short months since that first mixer, the organization has grown and gained strength. “The most active chapter right now in B.C. is in the Okanagan,” she says. “What’s important is that the farmers are now starting to make their own events and tying it together in the same communication platform online.”
The group is much more than an excuse to meet other young farmers. They’ve embraced high tech to make life a little easier for today’s farmers. “One of our first projects is an interactive resource map,” explains Dent. “It’s a map of B.C. and it has a number of categories and subcategories of listings. For example if you wanted to look for education programs, click on education and it will show you what is available. The same goes for land access, bank loans, and grants. Eventually we will map out where the young farmers are in our network. We have 11 different categories we are mapping at the moment.”
In addition, they will be releasing a land access guide and will organize a handful of land dating events. “Land dating is like speed dating,” laughs Dent. “We find older farmers looking for younger farmers to take over their operations and others who are interested in having someone else farm their land. We connect them up and provide some structural resources, like succession planning models. We give young farmers information on what they need to look for with regards to lease agreements. We show them the legal things they need to be aware of, and we do it in a fun format.”
The group is currently going through the process of being branded by a design company. When all is said and done, no matter what their tagline or design becomes, the role of the Young Agrarians is simple, but challenging. Dent, with the help of Seann Dory and the rest of the Young Agrarians, are growing an organization that can’t ensure success for B.C.’s young farmers, but at least it will give them a fighting chance.