The New Farmer Initiative urges Governments to Prioritize New Farmers

By Amanda Wilson - Coordinator of the Community-Academic Collaborative, the New Farmers Initiative and the Northern Food Network

This past November, the New Farmers Initiative, a network of Food Secure Canada, released a policy brief calling for farm renewal to be a priority within the next agricultural policy framework. A number of organizations added their voices to this call, representing an impressive cross-section of groups from across the country. As we move into the new year, the negotiations and conversations around the Federal-Provincial Agricultural Policy Framework will heat up, and now, more than ever, we need to show our provincial and federal governments that supporting new farmers is a top priority. 

Making sense of the multiple jurisdictions, programs and priorities that make up Canadian agricultural policy isn’t easy. It’s a bit like trying to piece together a puzzle without being able to see the picture on the box. However, if we’re serious about building a stronger, more resilient and sustainable food system, it is a crucial site of engagement. With a little bit of help, we can all participate in policy-building and send a clear message to our governments that supporting new farmers is a key part of improving our food system.  

What do we mean by Farm Renewal?

There is a growing consensus that Canada needs to do a better job of supporting the next generation of farmers. There are fewer and fewer farms operating in Canada; those remaining face rising costs and decreasing profits. With the value of farmland skyrocketing in many regions, it is not surprising that those interested in farming face significant barriers related to land access and capital, not to mention the lack of comprehensive training programs where new farmers can hone their skills.

The good news is that there is no shortage of people wanting to farm. From young people, both urban and rural, to newcomers to Canada and second careerists, there is a keen interest in agriculture and a strong desire to contribute to a more sustainable and diverse agricultural landscape in Canada. The challenge is to create the conditions to harness and nurture this excitement and leverage it to its full potential. Starting a farm and sustaining a farm are two different things. We need policies that not only encourage a diversity of actors to enter agriculture as a career but that also support these new farmers in their first few years of operation and ensure that farming continues to be a viable livelihood in the decades to come. 

Supporting farm renewal is not just about farmers: it will have ripple effects by increasing local and regional economic development and strengthening the social fabric of both rural and urban communities. When the Farm Renewal Brief was posted on the Food Secure Canada website, the caption stated: “New Farmers are the Future the Food. They Need Our Support!” While that statement still holds true, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it is not just that new farmers need our support, but that we, as eaters, workers and community members, need their support!

Find more background documents on Farm Renewal here.

What is the Agricultural Policy Framework?

While the need for farm renewal policies has existed for some time, the present moment offers a strategic opportunity to move us in the right direction. Every five years, the federal and provincial-territorial governments draft a policy framework to set the priorities for agricultural policy and programs called the Agricultural Policy Framework. This framework sets the tone for the next five years and coordinates funding and programs in partnership with the provinces and territories. The current framework, Growing Forward 2, will expire in 2018, and the federal and provincial governments are currently mapping out what the next policy framework will look like.  

Policy might not seem like the most exciting avenue for social change, but the truth is, policies like the Agricultural Policy Framework affect a host of programs that have a direct influence on the lives of farmers and, by extension, all actors in our food system. They also frame how we answer the key questions and challenges facing agriculture today, such as:

How can we best support a shift to more sustainable, carbon-resilient agriculture while ensuring farmers earn a decent living for themselves and their families?

How do we ensure older farmers have sufficient savings for retirement while easing land access for new farmers?

These are tough questions without easy solutions, but a policy framework provides an important starting point: a set of priorities and values from which to build innovative programs, strategies and partnerships. For example, the Liberal government has already indicated that environmental sustainability and climate change will be a priority, as will be the growth of both international and domestic markets. 

This is one of the many reasons for which I am excited about the possibilities for meaningful change in our food system, not only through the next Agricultural Policy Framework, but also in the development of a National Food Policy. The food movement has a real opportunity over the next couple of years to advance policies that will create a more sustainable, resilient and democratic food system for all.  

You can check out the Farm Renewal Brief here, or take a look at our longer Discussion Paper for a little more detail. Background documents on farm renewal iare also available here. In the coming months, the New Farmers Initiative will be developing a series of resources aimed at increasing the capacity of organizations, community groups and farmers to advocate for farm renewal policies.

If you would like to become involved with the New Farmers Initiative, email Amanda at

Amanda Wilson works with Food Secure Canada coordinating their work on New Farmers, Northern Food and Community-Academic Collaboration.  She is a post-doc fellow at Lakehead University and can be reached at



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