Queen's Park gave Northern Ontario agriculture a vote of confidence by announcing a $6.5-million investment at the International Plowing Match in Verner in September.
Much of that investment will go towards expanding and diversifying existing operations to create more jobs and revenue in the industry. It also signals a trend that has Ontario farmers, agricultural organizations and even politicians looking to the North as the future of agriculture in the province.
Traditionally, shorter growing seasons, less infrastructure, and longer distance to market are factors that made it tough for farmers to live and work in the region.
But there are a lot of opportunities as well – including cheaper land and more freedom in terms of restrictions.
The Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) is one of the organizations that hopes to dispel the misconceptions about agriculture in Northern Ontario.
They received $93,546 from the provincial government to establish a three-year program to train new, young and existing farmers in ecological agriculture in the region.
“EFAO has been wanting to offer its farmer-led research, training and community-building programs in Northern Ontario for a while now,” said Allison Muckle, northern programs director.
It has been challenging, however, because of the size of the geographical region and the distance between ecological farms. They applied for the grant with the hopes that they could expand their reach.
Ecological farming is the outcome of sustainable agriculture. According to EFAO, ecological farming includes all agricultural practices that protect our resources, increase biodiversity, mitigate climate change, and foster healthy, vibrant communities.
The EFAO was established in 1979. It is a member-based, farmer-driven organization that aims to connect a community of ecological farmers to resources, knowledge and education.
The organization currently has 500 members across the province. This winter, they will be rolling out their first set of workshops.
“We will be offering workshops that feature experts on certain topics, kitchen-table style meetings, farm tours to see production techniques in action, and webinars to connect to more remote locations,” said Muckle.
“For example, we might have workshops on assessing your farm's potential for scaling up to wholesale production, or give a tour of a farm that uses intensive rotational grazing for their beef herd.”
This practical training is focused on helping farmers improve the health of their soils, crops, livestock and the environment while at the same time running profitable businesses.
In 2020, they will also launch a pilot program of workshops and events geared towards new, young farmers. Participants will receive training, mentorship and a grant to help with startup costs.
The pilot program will focus on business planning with the end goal being to boost regioal agriculture and create a network of thriving ecological farms.
“People who don't live in the North tend to have a lot of misconceptions about the climate and the quality of our soils, and whether you can run a successful business up here,” said Muckle.
“We are hoping to showcase successful ecological farms so they can see what's actually being accomplished.”
For more information about EFAO or their training programs, contact Allison Muckle at email@example.com.