Youth Leading the Future of Agriculture [Some With Beards]

Written by Paul Wartman

Just got home to Mississauga from Guelph. GO bus with bike – it’s perfect. Entered the house puffy and sweaty from the ride home when Mum meets me and, as usual, casually mentions that I should shower. She throws in “…maybe trim that beard, too”. Ooooo.

The beard symbolizes passage – an acceptance into a community. Perhaps it is into adulthood or the lumberjacks for some, but this beard was for the annual Guelph Organic Conference.

 beard for veggies

Mumma lion understands. The other bearded folks at the conference understand as well, especially a particular group of individuals. Let’s name them Furmbears, which is a mash of urban farmer. A couple of us Furmbears congregated with some rooted farmers after the keynote talk, titled The Greening of Agriculture: The Generational Challenges for Youth in Agriculture.

The Generational Challenges for Youth in Agriculture. Almost deserves its own line.

“We are operating in a huge society of fear. Fear of genetically modified organisms (GMO) contamination. Grow your hedgerows. This is changing! We will have freedom to grow food without fear”. The battle charge was led by Lisa Mumm of Mumms Sprouting Seeds. Hedgerows are powerful. They present a physical edge, a barrier, which is often meant to prevent something from crossing. Sectioned off fields and compartmentalized crops. But Lisa is right. Like this “society of fear”, the symbolism encompassed by a hedgerow is changing. With new laws against GMO contamination and growing support for farmers taking seed companies, such as Monsanto to court, farmers are becoming empowered again. Hedgerows are becoming areas for diversification. Bring in the pollinators and beneficial insects! Reduce the need for pesticides and watch that soil fungi population soar! Plant things like hazel nuts for a fantastic yield of protein and fats as well as buffering strong winds. Hedges of change.

 Empower the farmer and they will thrive, bringing the environment and their supportive communities in their rear guard.

Supportive communities are bringing up the rear guard. It’s definitely been an uphill battle with a huge rock on their shoulders, but consumers are beginning to see their hard work pay off.  Melissa Baer of Vibrant Farms brings in the role of the consumer. Sharing her story of growing up on a farm – family owned for 200 years – Melissa remembers eating the food at university after an upbringing on organic food, “Health issues abound”.  She goes on to rally the march, “Our health is our responsibility! Not chemical companies. Not governments. Ours.” She’s right. We have the alternatives at our fingertips: CSA’s, local farms and markets, local and organic food in grocery stores. Demand more of this and continue supporting those that are pioneering this path so that we are “not learning from a broken system” but a new one that is motivated by passion for the environment and our wellbeing.

It is those that hold this passion [perhaps even a beard] that will guide our future in agriculture.

I’d also like to throw in something that didn’t get covered (time was short). The extreme shifts in local weather due to global climate change. That drought last summer was a sampler of what could be the norm in 10 or so years. How were you folks affected by the drought? As consumers/ producers?

As a producer and consumer I strongly support more diverse and perennial-based systems that are local and abundant in number. Let me know what you think and I’ll share the who/what/where/when/why in another post.

Good one!