Haliburton school provides skills for fledgling farmers

EcoFarm School encourages people considering small-scale commercial growing to explore new options

By Linda Geggie

For the Saanich News

There is one thing for sure, that every farmer had to start somewhere. Less and less we see farmers actually coming from farming families. It’s quite something to think that we are going to see the largest turnover of farms in the next decade due to the fact that the majority of farmers are in their mid 50s. With over half of our farmers retiring, it is critical we see new entrants into farming.

I have written about the challenges of getting into farming due to land values here in the past, and that is still the number one barrier. Training and support needs are also important for the sector.

There is a very interesting model in the region at Haliburton Community Farm that is working to address both of these challenges. Over the past year we have seen a number of farmers “graduate” from Haliburton and move on to their own farms to continue their farm businesses. In an effort to grow on this success, the EcoFarm School has been developed as a new collaboration with Royal Roads University Professional and Continuing Studies and is now offered for the first time at Haliburton Farm. The objective is to increase local agricultural education options and encourage people considering small-scale commercial growing to explore food growing and processing skills, see how farming can work in harmony with natural and created ecosystems, and start to build their social and business networks in the Vancouver Island food community.

Ann Eastman, EcoFarm School co-ordinator, is excited about the new program. “We need to re-connect with our food systems and support more new farmers but many people just don’t know where to begin. By tapping into the wealth of local expertise, we are showing how sustainable farming is not only possible, it’s an exciting part of the future of food.”

Anne tells me that the impetus for the school is to help to address the increasingly critical shortage of new farmers in the region and meet the need for short, intensive and hands-on training for prospective farmers, supported by classroom instruction.

The EcoFarm School is a series of five days of sessions that are mix of instruction and hands-on work, including farm business considerations, and ecosystem and food handling practices. The sessions run from Friday to Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Students receive 35 hours of classroom and field instruction from the organic farming, biodiversity and nutrition lead instructors, guest experts and Haliburton farmers. Each session has a maximum of 20 students.

Lara Engst a former participant in Haliburton’s Growing Food Course, is excited about the EcoFarm school. She found that learning at Haliburton “has truly sparked a fire in me to grow my own food and to learn more.” George Choy also hopes to enrol in the course to hone his backyard production, “I am hoping the EcoFarm School courses will help me get to the point where we can completely rely on our garden for vegetables during the summer.”

Two upcoming sessions are for the winter 2018 and spring 2018. In the winter session, running Jan. 19-23, EcoFarming in the Westcoast Winter covers the groundwork for year-round ecofarming. Topics and hands-on training include sourcing organic seeds and growth media, plant propagation, extending the growing season, hand tool use and care, all-season crop planning, succession and rotation, ecosystem restoration techniques, benefits of biodiversity for crops, to developing a brand and markets, and hands-on training in preparing fermented foods.

The spring 2018 course runs from May 4-8. Spring into EcoFarming covers the busiest season for ecofarmers. Topics and hands-on training include how to build and sustain soil health; understanding the links between soil, food quality and nutrition; young plant care; water management; how to plan and plant for maximum value, productivity and ecological restoration; habitat creation for native plants and pollinators. Embrace holistic farming through regional ethnobotany and food as medicine.

These sessions are supported by the Victoria Foundation, Van City and Whole Foods and there are bursaries available for up to half of tuition costs for these sessions. To register you can go online to Royal Roads Continuing Studies or for more information contact ecofarmschool@gmail.com.

Also in case you haven’t put your two cents into the draft Agriculture & Food Security Plan for Saanich, it is ready for your review and comment. You can view the draft plan and fill in a survey at www.saanich.ca/food.

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@cfair.ca.

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