I have to say that since I embarked upon this farming endeavour of mine, I have been shocked and delighted to discover how social farming can be. Unlike my writing life, which tends to be solitary and which suits the hermit side of my personality very nicely, it turns out farming lends itself well to a more collective effort.
Work parties are a great excuse to get everyone together for a meal (and, yes, are a fabulous way to tackle a big project) and networking with other farmers is always both educational and reassuring. Not so long ago I took part in the Community Farms Roundtable up at OUR Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake. Organized by Young Agrarians and Farm Folk City Folk, the roundtable format brought together an eclectic group of farmers, land owners, policy makers, researchers, and foodies to discuss ways of bringing together farmers, land, and communities.
With agriculture being increasingly concentrated on larger farms, land prices rising, and older farmers retiring at an alarming rate, conversations like those had at the roundtable event have never been more important. How do we find ways to get young farmers onto the land? How do we connect communities with their local growers (it’s shocking how many miles food travels before it lands on the average dinner plate). And how do we ensure that governments at all levels protect farmland?
Here in our neighbourhood, all kinds of initiatives and shared projects have blossomed as various landowners have collaborated to share resources, labour, and land. My short presentation at the roundtable had a look at the informal model we’ve been using here in the ‘hood as we work together as a neighbourhood to grow food crops and raise eggs and meat on relatively small amounts of land.
Community farming can take many other forms including formal co-ops, collectively held land, and farms owned by various levels of government. There are also various programs that match young farmers with land owners who would like to see their land in production but who may not, for whatever reason, wish to farm themselves. Some programs include a strong teaching/mentorship component while others are more casual.
On our little farm, we’ve not only tapped into the local community we’ve also recently joined the fascinating world of being hosts to travelers looking for a place to stay in exchange for helping out around the place. There are several websites that help coordinate these partnerships. WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) connect organic farms with those wanting to learn by doing on the land. Workaway and HelpX broaden the jobs list to include everything from childcare to office work to cooking, cleaning, and building projects. SOIL (Stewards of Irreplaceable Lands) has a strong teaching component and, like WWOOF, focusses on farming.
Our first two volunteers, both from Germany, have been nothing short of a godsend. From washing eggs, to sorting seeds, to building a new portable hog hut, they have cheerfully jumped in and set to work. Which, of course, has been marvelous – I am feeling much more optimistic that we might actually make some good headway on the never ending to-do list.
What has been the biggest surprise, though, is how much fun it is to have all this youthful energy around! We’ve had interesting conversations over dinner every night as we hear about their experiences travelling and share a bit of our lives here on the farm. I am having a lot more fun than I expected (and I really, really hope our visitors are not finding it too bad to be here!!) The weather has been crappy, to say the least, and this has meant we’ve had to ask for help with some rather soggy and unpleasant jobs – like digging a ditch to channel water away from the neighbor’s garage. The grim job was completed in record time with lots of smiles, chatting, and good humour despite the miserable conditions.
Stay tuned for a future update on the progress on the new hog hut. MC is an engineering student, so unlike some of my more wobbly creations, this hog hut is square, strong, and beautiful!