Straight up: if our lovely, resilient, rocky island is ever cut off from the great beyond for more than two or three days, we’ll have nar fresh vegetable to shake a stick at.
Things like hurricanes and an ice-locked ocean quickly interfere with our food supply, as you’ve noticed (and complained about) during the worst of winter.
The lack of local farmers in this province – especially young ones – is cause for concern. The average age of a Newfoundland and Labrador farmer is 55. Only six per cent of them are under the age of 35.
The government released a report a few years ago called “Our Farms, Our Foods, Our Future,” which said in just over three decades, by 2050, global demand for food will be up 70 per cent. We import 90 per cent of our food supply. 90. Per. Cent. 10 per cent is danger zone for your phone battery – iPhones actually turn red and beep a warning at you – and so it should be for your food supply. The UN is telling the whole world that small farmers will feed us for the future, with reports noting those small farmers are even helping the planet while they’re at it.
So what are we going to do when the demand for food goes up, gets more expensive if supply doesn’t – or can’t – meet it? Do we simply forget that generations survived – thrived, even – upon this rock before the Price Club (read: Costco) existed?
No b’y, we’re going to get farming. Even here on the Northeast Avalon, terrible weather be damned. Lots of young people need decent jobs anyway, right?
Sarah Crocker, of Seed to Spoon Co-operative, is marking her 10-year anniversary of farm work this year. She says she was interested in plants for a long time, but it was starting a job after university at Mike and Melba Rabinowitz’s organic farm in Portugal Cove that got her into farming. “I started as a volunteer in trade for vegetables, but it grew into a full-time job. Mark Wilson was the farm manager that year and he encouraged me to keep at it and explore apprenticeship to learn the business side. Mentorship is very important in farming, particularly for the planting, planning, and marketing systems of small-scale organic farming,” says Crocker.
Farming is kind of in Evan Murray’s blood. He runs Murray Meadows Farms with Brian Kowalski, and says he chose farming “to be self-employed; have time off to travel in the winter; do meaningful, beneficial, environmentally friendly work; go back to family roots; and because farming is fun – even in Newfoundland!”
Unlike Crocker and Murray, Sasha Boczkowski isn’t from Newfoundland. But she’s connected to the land, operating a greens-only share with the Nagles Hill/Mt. Scio farm share. “I moved to Newfoundland 10 years ago and needed a job,” says Boczkowski. “A friend of mine knew Jeremy Carter up on Mt. Scio farm and introduced me. I asked him for work and he told me he had a strawberry bed that needed weeding. I loved it! It all went on from there.”
Sure, farming here ain’t easy. Living here ain’t easy when the sun doesn’t shine for 30 consecutive days. So these young farmers say the weather is one of the biggest challenges to farming – but so is finding land. Crocker says the pressure of development is a serious issue: “We have access to a big market in St. John’s, but buying farmland anywhere close by is prohibitive. Half of the farmland on the Northeast Avalon has been lost since the 1970s – outlined in reports on the St. John’s Agriculture Development Area – 60,000 acres in the ‘70s to under 30,000 in 1993. I’m sure our development boom has really affected things since 1993!”
And Boczkowski finds the same problem. “Purchasing land in recent years has become very expensive. You don’t exactly make millions growing vegetables, and the thought of going tens of thousands into debt right off the bat is not very appealing. I’ve grown food on several different peoples’ land, but now without a long term lease there’s not much stability in that. It’s tricky being a landless farmer!”
Obviously farming is hard work. Most things are. “And it’s way healthier than being chained to a desk (Brian’s previous life),” says Murray. He also says to start small. “You can make decent money on even a half acre and some hand tools and expand from there. … We will trade advice for volunteering on the farm!” Boczkowski has some pretty simple advice to anyone thinking about farming. “Go for it!”