It should not come as a surprise that Canadian agriculture is facing a demographic crisis. In the 1930s, over thirty percent of the population was involved in food production. Today, farmers represent only 1.6 percent of the population and have an average age of 54. In 1991, the number of farmers in Canada under the age of 35 was 80,000 – now it is less than 25,000.
The National New Farmer Coalition is a farmer-driven grassroots initiative created in 2014. Our aim is to promote government policies that will reverse these trends and allow new farmers to thrive. To be successful, we need your help!
We believe that the decline in the number of young farmers is the direct result of Canadian agricultural policies, which have resulted in grim economic prospects for both new and established farmers. Over the past two decades, Canada has pursued an aggressive export-oriented agricultural policy for the benefit of multinational agri-food corporations. Meanwhile, most farm families are unable to support themselves with farm income alone – the average farm household generates less than one-third of their income from their farm operation. In this environment, it is not surprising that generations of young people have turned away from farming in order to pursue more viable career options.
Canada’s agricultural policies are failing not just farmers, but the Canadian public as well. We need a new, comprehensive approach to agricultural policy: a move away from market fundamentalism and towards food sovereignty. Policies to support new farmers must also factor in the far-reaching effects our food system has on healthcare, the environment, climate change, local economies, and community resiliency.
This is certainly a daunting task, but it is not impossible. Our group is inspired by the work of the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) in the US, particularly their “Building a Future with Farmers” 2011 report. The report provides policy recommendations for municipal, state and federal governments, and successfully influenced the 2014 Farm Bill. We believe the success of the NYFC demonstrates the immense power of a grassroots coalition approach, and we are eager to create something similar in Canada.
The National New Farmer Coalition (NNFC) in Canada was born following discussions at the National Farmers Union (NFU) Youth retreat in March 2014 and several years of ongoing efforts by the NFU Youth to engage new farmers across the country in discussions of agricultural policy. Our Coalition is actively supported by Food Secure Canada, Young Agrarians and the NFU.
The Coalition is not a new organization but rather a collaborative project that brings together individuals and organizations around the principles of Food Sovereignty and the common goal of supporting the next generation of farmers in Canada. We believe that by convening people, resources and perspectives we can build collective strength and expand our ability to affect change.
So far, we have been gathering existing new farmer research and resources, and have partnered with Julia LaForge, a University of Manitoba PhD candidate, to develop a New Farmer Survey. The survey aims to identify the challenges and opportunities facing young farmers, and to assess the effectiveness of existing programs and policies. If you are currently farming, want to be a farmer, or have recently exited farming, please take a few minutes to complete the New Farmer Survey here.
The Coalition will use the results of this survey to develop a National New Farmer Policy Platform. The Platform will make specific recommendations to multiple levels of government for each of the following categories:
Land – improving access to affordable and appropriate farmland.
Capital – developing financial mechanisms to support new farmers.
Knowledge – providing new farmers with better access to training and support.
Profit – re-evaluating agri-food policies that impact farm net income.
Our recommendations will be supported by existing research, results from the New Farmer Survey, and case studies.
Food sovereignty is a major election issue, with organizations such as Food Secure Canada coordinating national campaigns. It is crucial that the voice of new farmers be heard in any debate about the future of our food system, and we believe that the National New Farmer Policy Platform will bring our perspectives to the forefront of this crucial discussion.
We see tremendous opportunity in the growing collective realization that just and sustainable food systems increase the social, economic and environmental health of communities, and that new farmers have a critical role to play in building those food systems. A true social movement is emerging – for it to succeed we must continue to build and strengthen relationships and alliances with a broad constituency. We need the determined support of health practitioners, educators, social justice advocates, economists, policy makers, environmentalists, indigenous leaders, youth, and above all, we need the resounding support of eaters.
For more information about food & farm policy in Canada, visit www.nfu.ca
If you have any questions about the Coalition, please contact Virginie Lavallée-Picard, interim Coalition coordinator, at email@example.com.
Please support our work by completing and helping to disseminate our New Farmer Survey: http://ruminationsongerminations.com/2015/02/10/new-farmer-survey/