Down on the (small) farm

Trevor Nichols
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Explore, learn and celebrate small-scale agriculture

BY TREVOR NICHOLS

Northville Farm Heritage Centre hosts a special celebration July 25.  Farmers of every type will come together to explore the skills and practices related to small-scale farming through workshops, demonstrations and discussion.

The Celebration of Small-scale Farming is aimed at prospective farmers, as well as old-school veterans who want to learn the latest new skills. The day features talks on subjects from pastured poultry production to extending vegetable growing seasons to beekeeping.

Becky Sooksom is the resource coordinator for Thinkfarm:  a program run through the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture to support new farmers. She helped organize the celebration, being put on with cooperation from Nova Scotia Agricultural College, AgraPoint, Rural Delivery and Northville Farm Heritage Centre.

The event evolved out of the New Farmers Gathering, which brought together new farmers from Nova Scotia in 2008 and 2009. When the organizers decided not to put on another gathering, Sooksom and others started working on a replacement.

She says they changed the scope a little, to “draw out more of the small-scale aspect” of farming, and now have a day-long event filled with workshops by some of the Valley's most experienced and innovative small farmers.

According to Sooksom, small-scale farming is becoming more and more prevalent in Nova Scotia. For a long time, the trend in the Nova Scotia agriculture industry was of family farms shutting down or selling off to large agriculture operations.

Recently, however, farming at a small-scale, or part-time level, is becoming more popular.

Younger couples, and migrants from more urban areas, are coming in increasing numbers to the Valley to set up small-scale farming operations, Sooksom says. They generally sell their products directly to customers through venues like farmers’ markets, leaving out the wholesalers and middlemen.

She calls them single-income farms, because often they are owned by a couple, with one half running the farm operation while the other works another job.

For these types of new farmers, Sooksom says, it is “essential” to have help from veteran farmers.

“It's so helpful for people to have experienced farmers to teach them,” she says, adding the input can “make-or-break” a new farm.

Sooksom says she hopes the event will help build networks between farmers, and start more “farmer-to-farmer” communication in the Valley.

Part of the point of celebration, she adds, is to address the growth in small farms, and celebrate their economic contribution to the Valley.

Ted Hutton, who is putting on one of the workshops July 25, says, while this type of farm has recently become more prevalent, it's really hard to make a living at it.

He and his family have been running Hutton Family Farms for decades. Their operation is not one of Sooksom's “single-income farms,” but more like one of the medium-sized ventures that have been disappearing. He laments the fact many start-up farmers have to have their income supplemented by a spouse working off of the farm.

Farming in the Valley is changing, he says, and, in the current agricultural climate, it can be really tough to make enough money. With a few exceptions, he says,  the smaller a farmer's operation, the harder it is to make money.

Aaron Hiltz agrees. He says there just aren't as many farmers as there used to be. However, he thinks practices like he employs – pastured poultry production, for instance – are a great way to entice people into farming.

While he expects many of the participants in his July 25 workshop will be younger people and “back-to-the-land types,” there is a lot older, more experienced farmers can learn as well.

Many veteran Valley farmers have a hard time letting go of their identities as beef farmers or dairy farmers, Hiltz says, but there is a movement among some in the farming industry to diversify farm operations and the trend could benefit local farmers.

He says he thinks the monoculture attitude of “specialize, mechanize and routines” is dangerous, and there is a real need for the industry to look at older, traditional,  small-scale practices to keep  farms viable.

Whether old or new, there will be lots for farmers to learn at Northville Farm, Sooksom says.

Anyone interested needs to pre- register before July 15, by calling 902- 893- 6575 or visiting the website. The day costs $15 per person or  $30 per family; children under 12 are free. Registration includes $5 in coupons, $10 for families, for use with the local food vendors selling food on site, including Meadowbrook Farm Meat Market, The Hip Rose Catering Company and Pie r Squared.

 

Workshops

Season Extension in Vegetable Production

Pastured Poultry Production

Dairy Goat Nutrition

Compost Tea in Small Fruit Production

Finishing Market Lambs

Women’s Panel: Finding Your Place in the Business

Animal Powered Farming

Marketing Farm Products

Permaculture and its Application on the Farm

 

Interactive Stations

Beekeeping and Bee Products

Environmental Farm Plan/Farm Safety

Grafting Fruit Trees

Safe Animal Handling

Seed Saving

Used Farm Equipment

Wood Shingle Making

 

Farm Tours

Hutten Family Farm

Bosveld’s Family Farm

Van Meekeren Farms Ltd.

 

 

Organizations: Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Northville Farm Heritage Centre, Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture Hip Rose Catering Company Farm Products Farm Equipment Meekeren Farms

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Northville

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