Environment & Sustainability
GROWING THE NEXT GENERATION OF FARMERS IN CANADA
The Challenge: Canadian farming numbers are at an all-time low. The average age of a farmer in Canada is 56, and fewer than 10% are 35 or younger. With land prices at historic highs, the young and “farm curious” face huge barriers to entering the field. As we lose more farmers and farms each year, we desperately need new generations to build resilient, ecological, and climate-adapted food systems.
The Solution: With Young Agrarians, Sara Dent and her team are growing an inclusive and economically viable pathway for younger farmers to enter — and revitalize — Canada’s agriculture industry and food ecosystems. Through farmer-to farmer community building, on-farm training in regenerative agriculture, business mentorships, land-access resources, and technical assistance, Young Agrarians is helping to reverse farm loss and strengthen Canadian food security.
Farming as applied activism
“If we want to regenerate the land, we need to regenerate farmers,” says Sara Dent.
That’s the premise behind Young Agrarians, the organization Sara co-founded in 2012 to do precisely that. In the face of rising land costs and declining numbers of Canadian farms and farmers, Young Agrarians has spearheaded a variety of innovative approaches to breathe new life into Canada’s agricultural sector.
Now the largest educational resource for new farmers in the country, Young Agrarians delivers programs across western Canada and works coast-to-coast through its networks.
The ever-rising cost of land is the #1 barrier to entry for new farmers. With land values already high, in 2021 alone, the market value of land and farm buildings in Canada rose by 22.7%. Most young farmers, Sara notes, simply don’t have access to the capital or credit to enter the market. For that reason, Young Agrarians has created a land-matching program that connects would-be young farmers with landholders, and provides free educational and legal supports to enable viable land-sharing arrangements. To date, the organization has completed close to 300 land matches on more than 11,000 acres in British Columbia, providing new farmers with land access, landholders with a means to produce food on their land, and older farmers with succession options, all while building stronger community bonds and collective knowledge. To Sara, this sharing of the land is a — literally — a grassroots form of philanthropy.
What’s innovative about Young Agrarians, says Sara, “is that it’s farmer to farmer.” Rather than bringing in industry or academic “experts” to dispense advice or technology from on high, Young Agrarians engages directly with local farmers who teach, mentor, and build community. The organization prioritizes the increased diversity of farming by creating welcoming spaces for women (who make up more than 50% of participants) and BIPOC communities, including training settler farmers in reconciliation to increase relationships with Indigenous communities.
Young Agrarians Apprenticeship Program matches “farm-curious” new and young adults with host-farm mentors in experiential training on-farms in a wide variety of settings. For those in start-up, the organization’s Business Mentorship Network has seen participating farms increase land in production by an average of 48%, revenue by 64%, and food production by 72%.
Post-pandemic, says Sara, “Young Agrarians farmers are very eager to network and exchange knowledge to help their businesses grow and adapt to climate change.
“We saw with Covid that when you don’t have short supply chains, you’re extremely vulnerable. To ensure that we have farmers in the future, and a resilient climate adapted food system, we need enough local farmers who are viable, and can weather today’s economic and climatic conditions.”