Engaging Discussions at the Bring Food Home Conference

By Kimberly Bitterman

The 5th Bring Food Home conference was held at the University of Ottawa from October 26-29th. This year the focus was on upstream collaboration and was hosted by Sustain Ontario and Ottawa’s Just Food. The conference brought together farmers, activists, local practitioners, and academics (among others), to enhance knowledge sharing and collaboration. The conference was an exciting opportunity to learn about some of the work currently taking place in Ontario on issues such as the protection of farmland, the reduction of municipal waste, the fight for better food in schools, and the enhancement and protection of soil. On Saturday, I attended back-to-back sessions that examined the barriers to new and young farmers in Ontario. The first session was focused on what is currently being done to help new and young entrants into agriculture and included presentations from Moe Garahan of Just Food, Pat Learmonth of Farms at Work, and David Thompson from the Rural Agri-Innovation Network (RAIN), in Sioux St. Marie. The second session, which was designed to be more of a discussion,  was facilitated by Moe Garahan and included a presentation from Sara Epp.

Both sessions involved great discussions around what the barriers are for new and young farmers (and those who have been farming for longer). The second session was focused on analyzing and commenting on a draft policy paper on new and young farmers that can be found on the Bring Food Home website. Some of the issues that were discussed included the difficulties many farmers have with marketing their farm products; the struggle new and young farmers have with gaining access to farmland (as well as the cost of farmland); the challenge of working with regulations that sometimes are framed as one-size-fits-all; the need for regulated and paid farming internships with funding support/wage subsidies; and, the consequences of increasing corporatization and the consolidation of production in agriculture. A theme that crossed both sessions was the tendency for agricultural issues and challenges to be framed in terms of financing—many at these sessions felt that farming issues run far deeper than famers’ need for more or bigger loans. Another theme was the rapidly changing demographics in agriculture and the need to support retiring farmers as well as those starting out. The discussions were fascinating and included a broad spectrum of participants, all of whom cared deeply about these issues.