October 27, 2015 - Have you ever thought of starting a farm? For many people who love growing food and who get excited about the idea of embarking on the road of entrepreneurship, this is a pipe dream. If you’re the city, the thought of relocating from a residential area to a rural community with acreage, where you have to become acquainted with production techniques, farming equipment—and let’s not forget: weather—is a significant hurdle. Even if you grew up on a farm, the thought of investing in acreage and equipment is a significant hurdle. Not to mention, the closest agricultural colleges are in Manitoba and southern Ontario—or at least, until recently.
Fortunately for the potential farmer entrepreneurs in the area, Confederation College (Thunder Bay) announced that it will be bringing a new program to northwestern Ontario starting in January. With support from the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy and local farmers, Thunder Bay’s first ever farmer training program will soon be launched.
The Farming for Food program is meant to help students take the next step in developing their skills and understanding of what is needed to successfully grow food and start their own business. This program will help prospective farmers get started by teaching the fundamentals of plant biology, soil science, pest management, and business planning. Students will have the option of attending courses in person or online if they live elsewhere in the north. The optional field placement portion of the program will further help cultivate skills by giving students firsthand experience of working on a farm.
This is a good time to be interested in agriculture. The local food movement has been growing in recent years, with new farmers markets popping up and others expanding. Local vegetables, meats, harvested foods, flour, and dairy products are popping up on restaurant menus. Established distributors are getting connected with local producers and new ventures are starting up or are growing, such as the Sioux Lookout food hub and Cloverbelt Food Co-op (Dryden). Retail outlets in the region are beginning to stock their shelves with food from nearby farms as people become more interested in knowing where their food comes from and in choosing food with the freshest flavor. Public sector institutions such as the City of Thunder Bay’s Long-Term Care facilities have also been developing new policies and procedures to accommodate local food. Recently, Tourism Northern Ontario has started to get on board with the local food movement as it recognizes the potential to support growth in the region’s culinary tourism scene. More and more tourists traveling to the area are looking for a rich food experience and to immerse themselves in the culture and flavours of the region.
Another encouraging sign is that the funding landscape is starting to change. Funding bodies like the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, FedNor, and Ontario Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs have been making a more concerted effort to support farm start-ups and expansions. Plus land values in our region are considerably more affordable than elsewhere, and there is a lot of arable land available. If you’ve always wanted to be a farmer, the time is ripe to get started on that path.
For more information, please contact: