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Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network

Growing farmers, one film at a time…

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Well it has been much too long since we’ve offered a proper update on our blog, so now’s the time!

And where to begin? So much has happened and changed in the ACORN office over the last several months, but in the spirit of a successful and sunny beginning to the 2012 growing season, I’m going to discuss something that I’ve been most invested in: meeting and sharing inspiration with beginner farmers in the Maritimes!

Over the past several months, I came across two fantastic new documentaries about food and farming issues affecting new farming generations. The first, ‘GROW!‘ was found after reading about the upcoming film on Civil Eats, one of my favourite food and farming news sources. Directed by Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson, the film showcases the resurgence of young organic farmers in the state of Georgia, highlighting 20 individuals across 12 farms who have found their way back to the land, whether working on a family-owned farm, buying their own, or, in most cases, using another farmer’s land to grow food for their community. The farmers themselves, range quite drastically in backgrounds. Some have been well-versed with academia, carrying college degrees ranging from Physical Chemistry to  English Literature to Accounting. Others have never worked in their chosen fields. Some have, and then decided it wasn’t the right path for them.

The second film, ‘To Make A Farm‘ was discovered when Tarrah Young (Green Being Farm), a guest speaker from the last ACORN Conference, mentioned it to us as a great new Canadian-made farming documentary. The documentary, made by Steve Suderman (which, also recently won big at the Yorkton Film Festival), depicts the struggles and triumphs of a season on a fledgling farm through the eyes of five young people who have decided to become small-scale farmers, despite having no backgrounds in this demanding profession. Tarrah, along with her partner Nathan, represent one of the three farms showcased in the documentary, which provides an authentic account of the trails and tribulations of becoming a full-time farmer, particularly within the colder, and often more finicky, Canadian growing climate.

After connecting with the lovely and generous folks behind these award-winning films, I received permission to host screenings of them around the Maritimes.

And to what success! Since February, the films have toured the region, beginning at the NB Organic Forum in Fredericton, to the ‘Grow A Farmer Forum’ in Halifax, to the ACORN AGM Reception in Sackville, NB, and the PEI Adapt Council AGM in Charlottetown, PE, and more (and more to come too!). Most recently, ACORN teamed up with Carbon Arc Cinema to host screenings at the historic Khyber Arts Centre in Halifax, NS. The screening of To Make A Farm, held on April 5th, met a theatre that reached over-capacity! People were sitting anywhere they could fit, and in the interest of not causing too much of a fire hazard, we had to turn away over 20 people at the door (for those that couldn’t make it, the film is now available on DVD).

In general, these screenings have drawn large audiences, and the conversations that have followed the film have always exuded inspiration and excitement, creating round-room conversation about what peoples’ farming dreams are, what people have experienced and would like to achieve. Most commonly heard (and much appreciated) post-film comment: “I just want to quit my job and start farming!”

We’ve had local farmers speak about their start-up, and agricultural organizations explain their efforts in training new food growers (THINKFARMCommon Roots Urban Farm, Hope Blooms). For many, (and judging by the turnouts!) these films seem to draw out an innate curiosity and longing for the farming way of life, one I suspect may be becoming more prevalent than expected. While many of us may fantasize, these films and discussion have provided solid proof that, while perhaps not for everybody, you can be a totally successful farmer. It may involve some of the hardest work you’ll ever do….

but it’s totally worth it.

In that way these events have provided a perfect segue to my work with ACORN…

My position with ACORN works to help and support those pursuing training in organic agriculture, and to provide them with the means to believe that they really can do it! Primarily, I am currently facilitating the development of our Grow A Farmer Program–a new apprenticeship and mentorship program in organic agriculture, which will be the first of it’s kind in Atlantic Canada.

To provide you with some context, there are currently no comprehensive, farm-based training opportunities for organic growers in the Maritimes. While Ontario has CRAFT and Everdale Organic Farm, and B.C. has programs like Linnaea, other than the great courses offered by the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (though not farm-based), the Maritimes has seen a void in this form of education, which has often lead people out of the region in pursuit of other, more-ideal opportunities (myself included).

Over the past several years, ACORN has partnered with the national SOIL Apprenticeship Program,  to help deliver informal farm-based apprenticeships through-out the Maritime region. Through the feedback we have received from both the host-farms and apprentices, we have identified a need for further development: for more ways to educate and unite the community of new growers. Through a comprehensive curriculum and regional events and educational opportunities, ACORN aims to generate more organic growers that will feel that much more equipped to carry out future farming operations of their own.

This feedback has inspired the creation of the Grow A Farmer Program, which is being developed over the next several months and will have its pilot launch later on this year (COMING SOON: http://www.growafarmer.ca!). Currently, I am working with an awesome Steering Committee of Maritime-based growers and advisors to decide what this program will look like and offer participants. We’re well underway with planning, and will have more to share by our first event, ACORN’s Beginner Farmer Symposium!

This new annual event, scheduled for Monday August 20th, 2012 in Sackville, NB, has been specifically organized to offer support and education for new and aspiring farmers, The day will feature a series of introductory workshops and panel discussions on topics ranging from soil fertility and greenhouse management, to broader discussions and story-sharing about the importance of generating new farmers in the Maritimes! Drawing growers of all skills, styles and experience, this is a special day to unite and build our community from province to province, and to celebrate the wisdom and hard work of those committed to organic agriculture!

So for those of you that weren’t able to catch the films, and would like to learn more about what it takes to become a farmer, please make sure you attend the Symposium in August! Stay tuned to the ACORN website as we confirm the full schedule and registration information! We will also have more film screenings coming up too. It’s never too late to learn folks!

Photos from the Events:

GROW! at the Khyber Arts Centre (Halifax, NS) on May 30th, 2012.

Lucia Stephen, ACORN’s Grow A Farmer Coordinator, explaining opportunities and ACORN resources for new and aspiring farmers to those that attended the GROW! screening on May 30th, 2012.

Full house for the film screening at the Charlotte St. Arts Centre! This was our first screening, which followed the NB Organic Forum in Fredericton, NB on February 16th, 2012.

ACORN would like to acknowledge the support of The NB Agricultural Council, Agri-Futures NS, PEI Adapt Council and the Territorial Farmers Association.

Written by Lucia Stephen, ACORN’s Grow A Farmer Program Coordinator (and aspiring farmer!) – lucia (at) acornorganic (dot) com

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Author: acornorganic

Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network. Vision ACORN aims to enhance the viability and growth of the Atlantic Canadian organic agricultural community through a unified regional network. Mission Statement ACORN is a non-profit organization that promotes organic agriculture by: Facilitating information exchange between and amongst organizations and individuals Coordinating non-formal education for producers through to consumers Networking with all interested parties both regionally and nationally Structure ACORN is a membership-based non-profit incorporated cooperative with an eleven member Board of Directors and an Executive Director.

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