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Replacing Old Macdonald

Old Macdonald had a farm, but young Macdonald can't afford one

Young Agrarians help the next generation of farmers access affordable farmland

Arguably, the world’s most precious and undervalued resource is food.

Considering how much work and capital it takes to be a farmer, you’d think it would be one of the best-paying jobs out there.

But it’s far from it.

Because food is a necessity, it sells for the absolute bare minimum.

Many farmers accept a life of struggling to make ends meet.

In part because of this and the initial costs associated with purchasing farmland – not many young people are stepping into Old Macdonald’s shoes.

A report from the Royal Bank of Canada, Boston Consulting Group and researchers from the University of Guelph found that in the next decade, 40% of farmers in Canada will be retiring.

By 2033, a shortfall of over 24,000 farm workers is expected nationwide.

VanIsle’s “Young Agrarians” are trying to change that.

The organization presented to the regional district board the issues faced in the agriculture community and what they’re doing to make a difference.

“The context for farming is dire,” Young Agrarian’s executive director Sara Dent said. “We continue to see that farmers are aging, and there are less and less young farmers, 35 and younger, in the country.”

Over the last decade, the number of farms in BC has dropped from 19,000 to 15,000.

The Young Agrarians say the best way to impact these numbers is by helping potential farmers get access to affordable farmland.

“We are working on supporting the next generation to come into agriculture,” Dent said, noting land and production costs create entry barriers for young people. “Everyone is aware of how expensive the land is.”

In BC, they accomplish this through their Land Matching Program (BCLMP), which involves helping potential farmers find and lease land at a feasible price.

Developing land agreements that are mutually beneficial for both owners and tenants takes a lot of know-how, and that’s what the Young Agrigarians offer for free through this program.

“We’re helping to de-risk the access to land component,” Dent said.

Sarah Wilson, the owner of Pendleton Farms North of Courtenay, told the Comox Valley Record that the program’s benefit was invaluable.

“They walked us through every step of the agreement, got us to consider aspects that would never have occurred to me or the landowners,” said Wilson. “It involved a lot of back-and-forth, and in the end, it left both the landowners and myself much more comfortable with what we were getting into.”

She’s been farming the property for four years now. She plans to continue for years to come.

Young Agrarians has made 71 land matches on Vancouver Island on 198 acres. Since 2018, of the 71 matches, 12 are in the Comox Valley, and 80 of the 198 acres matched are in the valley.

If you want to learn more about the Young Agrarians, or the BCLMP, you can visit their website here.

The provincial government, local governments and other funders fund the BCLMP. The Young Agrarians requested the Comox Valley Regional District help expand the program’s reach into North Vancouver Island.