Birds, bees, and drones: The new face of Canadian agriculture

A new generation is turning the traditional Canadian farm on end—moving into city spaces, creating new funding models and tackling food insecurity in the North

Tsawwassen Farm School is a unique educational program that is a collaboration between Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Tsawwassen First Nation and on TFN land. (Jean-Philippe Marquis)

Tsawwassen Farm School is a unique educational program that is a collaboration between Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Tsawwassen First Nation and on TFN land. (Jean-Philippe Marquis)

Nikki Wiart

Canada’s farming industry is in the midst of a demographic crisis. According to Statistics Canada, the average age of farmers in 2011 was 54, and more than half were older than 55. Between 1991 and 2011, Canada lost more than 10 farms a day, and the number run by people younger than 40 dropped from 74,000 to 20,000—a powerful indication of how few farmers are taking over the family business.

While these numbers don’t seem to forecast a rosy future for agriculture, they do leave some room for a new generation. In the past year at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College, 60 per cent of the applicants for the bachelor of science and agriculture program came from urban postal codes. Rene Van Acker, associate dean at the college, says that while most grads go into a sub-sector of the industry, a few head back to the land, where they face many obstacles. “The hurdle is access into an operation, or access to land, and access to very, very practical training in farming,” she says of first-generation farmers. Guelph’s program is designed for the family farmer looking to improve an already established business.

However, a school in Surrey, B.C., is targeting first-generation farmers—the ones who have to start small because they can’t afford big. Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s bachelor of science in sustainable agriculture and food systems saw its first crop of graduates this year—a class of four. The four-year program, established in 2012, is dedicated to hands-on learning. In the third and fourth year, students spend the majority of their time working directly with plants and animals on KPU’s teaching farm.

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