Tricia is a sustainable food staff writer for Justmeans. She is passionate about food: growing it, helping others grow it, and eating it. She is an environmental educator who has been working in community-based education for fourteen years. She enjoys growing food in her small garden and runs a gardening mentorship program for local families. She's also a member of six community supported agricult...
The Incubator Farm: Growing Sustainable Food and Farmers
With the upsurge in the excitement around local food and sustainable food, there has been an interest in urban gardening and a move toward gardening in urban spaces like vacant lots. However, for people who decide to pursue farming as a career, there can be few options, especially in places where land prices are high. Farming is always a gamble, but starting out as a farmer is even more of a gamble. Can you buy land, and is it worth it? What is the market really like for this food in your area? Can you create a successful distribution network that works for you? And ultimately, will you actually be able to survive on a mishmash of farming and other jobs as your business gets off the ground?
Starting a sustainable farming business is fraught with all sorts of uncertainties, both large and small. Beginning such a business seems like a great leap into the unknown, but the landing can be softer with some help. Incubator farms are one way to help support growing sustainable food businesses.
What is an incubator farm? McVean Farm in Brampton, Ontario is one such farm. This year, the farm is supporting nineteen new farmers as they experiment with different farm enterprises. Much of the food is sold directly from the farm, through markets and u-picks. Some is sold to local restaurants.
Some of the new farmers have sustainable food enterprises, like raising mushrooms, seeds, or bees. There are also a number of farmers who have the opportunity to raise quarter-acre test crops. Many of the farmers at McVean farm are working on niche products, some specific to a particular style of ethnic cooking. Eelam Natural Foods is led by a farmer from Sri Lanka and produces vegetables for the public at large as well as niche products for the local Tamil community. Currently, they are producing onion flowers, providing a local alternative to a product that is often flown in from Asia.
Incubator farms like McVean farm are an integral part of creating a community of farmers. In urban and suburban areas where land is expensive, children, youth, and adults have little access to larger pieces of land where they can begin to test the market and the ground for specific varieties of sustainable food. It's an important part of planning a farm and planning a farming career. Incubator farms provide ground in which farmers can grow.