In 2013, Just Food established the Start-Up Farm Program to support new farmers in the Ottawa region. By offering access to land, shared infrastructure/equipment, and workshops, the program aims to enable more people in this region to start their own successful farm business. Program participants can access up to 3 years of on-site support at the Just Food Farm, at a subsidized rate building towards a cost-recovery basis.
The Start-Up Farm program offers a low-risk way for new farmers to test their business ideas and to develop additional skills, experience, markets and networks before committing to a larger, longer-term farm operation. The program offers an entry point for a diversity of new farmers, including those from a non-farm background, second careerists, new Canadians, and those with farm experience in other settings.
The program also supports a broader cohort of new farmers in the region by offering training to any new producers at a fee, as well as access to broader farm supports. (These include free listing on the Ottawa Buy Local/Grow Local Food Guide; a listing of farm internship/employment opportunities in the region; the Savour Ottawa program, an economic development initiative connecting local producers with local restaurants and retailers; and the Explorer course for those considering getting into farming.)
- To enable more new farmers in the Ottawa region to start their own successful farm business;
- To reduce barriers to new farmers in accessing land, infrastructure and relevant training;
- To offer access to a diversity of new farmers;
- To demonstrate the economic, environmental and social viability of small-scale, organic food production in the Ottawa region;
- To demonstrate cooperative models for entrepreneurs to work to together;
- To work towards access in the NCC greenbelt and broader region to transfer farm start-ups to longer-term viable land tenure options;
- To demonstrate sustainable and innovative production techniques, infrastructure and land management options including soil rehabilitation, which can be replicated by local farmers;
- To document and share information with partners in Canada and elsewhere.
The program started in 2013 with 9 test-croppers growing at the Just Food Farm, each managing their own farm project on a quarter-acre of land (visit About the Farms for bios and photos). Upon successful completion of their first growing season, test-croppers who want to continue and expand their project are supported to scale-up at another site and join the growing network of Just Food Start-up Farmers. New test-croppers are admitted into the program each year to start with a quarter-acre.
Test-croppers who complete their first growing season may decide not to continue growing the following year, for a variety of reasons. This is also considered a successful outcome of the program, as participants can make informed decisions about a farming career without having taken on major risks. Throughout the program, test-croppers learn about and have access to a range of other opportunities to participate in farming and local food systems.
Up to ten new test-croppers will be admitted into the program for 2016-2017. A test-cropper is someone who is interested in starting a farm business, and wishes to access land, shared infrastructure and workshops to assist them in testing their business ideas. Each test-cropper will be able to access the following during the program:
- A quarter-acre of land at the Just Food Farm. All plots will be prepared for planting by Just Food, and participants will be able to access their plot as soon as weather permits in the spring (to be determined by the Farm Manager, but most likely in mid to late May);
- Electric fencing and a water source for your plot. Test-croppers will be responsible for building and maintaining irrigation within their plot, with bulk drip tape available for purchase on-site.
- Water on the farm comes from a municipal connection and plots are metered so you can monitor your water use;
- Access to communal infrastructure and equipment including barn storage, a wash station, cold storage, greenhouse space, and walk-behind rototillers;
- Participation in a series of training workshops designed for new farmers – see Training Schedule below for details;
- Participation in several farm meetings throughout the season, where all test-croppers meet together with program staff for updates, exchange of knowledge and results, and collaboration;
- Access to Just Food’s resource library;
- General liability coverage under Just Food’s insurance plan (disability, crop or other insurance is the responsibility of each testcropper);
- Organic certification for their project – the certification process is led by Just Food, and all producers on site are required to participate. Specific training is provided.
Suitable farm projects at the Just Food Farm could include mixed vegetables, flowers, grains, herbs, or other specialty plant crops. Due to the nature of the program, including requirements for crop/plot rotation, test-croppers will not be able to farm on the same plot of land each year. As such, and given that it is a 1-year program, there are no option for perennial production. The Just Food Farm site may be able to accommodate small poultry in the coming year, and livestock projects in the future.
While assistance is given throughout the program, test-croppers are responsible for planning and managing their own farm projects, including sourcing inputs (seeds, mulch, etc.), planting and tending crops, harvesting, distribution, marketing and sales. By participating in training workshops and farm meetings, test-croppers can seek support, learn from others and access additional resources for their projects.
If a test-cropper has or gains access to other suitable land during their participation in the program, they are encouraged to transition to their own land as early as possible. These participants can still access training and other supports through Just Food. Similarly, existing farm businesses are ineligible for the on-site program, but can access training and other supports.
The Just Food Farm Site
The Just Food Farm is located on a National Capital Commission (NCC) property in the Ottawa Greenbelt at 2389 Pepin Court. Formerly an NCC nursery, Just Food is developing a long-term land use plan to manage agricultural and demonstration/education uses on the site. In addition to the Start-Up Farm Program, the Just Food Farm hosts other partnership programs with non-profit community groups:
- Farmworks with Operation Come Home;
- Karen Community Farm with KLEO (Karen Learning and Education Opportunities Support Group);
The Just Food Farm is accessible by public transit (OC Transpo bus routes 94 and 128).
The Just Food Farm is certified organic by EcoCert, which means that all test-croppers on site must adhere to Canada’s organic production standards. This includes purchasing or saving organic seed and inputs; avoiding chemical fertilizers or pesticides; implementing soil fertility practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation and compost; and detailed record-keeping to prove that organic standards have been met. All test-croppers participate in training on organic production and certification at the start of the season, to ensure that they are prepared to comply with organic standards, and are required to participate in an organic inspection once during the growing season.
A series of structured training courses are designed to support new farmers in their transition to a successful business. Courses start in fall before the growing season begins, to help test-croppers better plan their operations. Courses are presented by local farmers and Just Food staff, and reflect regional conditions and opportunities.
Test-croppers are expected to attend all training courses and monthly program meetings. If a test-cropper is not able to attend a course or meeting, they must discuss it with the program manager in advance. All courses will be held on evenings or weekends.
Many of these courses are also accessible to other new farmers at a fee. If you are not applying for the on-site program at this time but would like to receive updates on available courses, please sign up for the Just Food newsletter.
The proposed schedule of course topics is as follows. Specific course dates will be confirmed upon acceptance into the program.
Schedule of 2016-2017 Training Courses – Ottawa (locations TBC)
October 22nd, 2016 – Full day Start-Up Farm Program Orientation
2 hours – Financing
3 hours – Organic certification and record-keeping
3 hours – Marketing, pricing, and sales
3 hours – Crop planning and production
3 hours – Intro to farm business planning
3 hours – Farm safety and equipment use (fence, rototiller)
3 hours – Irrigation system
3 hours – Soil fertility through organic production practices
3 hours – Post-harvest handling
Group Learning Sessions
In addition to the workshops, group learning sessions are held once a month for all test-croppers and program staff, from spring through fall. These sessions allow test-croppers to share their experience and results, identify common challenges and opportunities for collaboration, and raise questions for discussion or future learning. These sessions are facilitated by the farm manager, with agendas reflecting emerging needs and interests of the test-croppers over the season. Dates and times will be set at the beginning of the season, in consultation with the group.
Email communication, including a listserve, is used heavily throughout the program to share updates and coordinate meetings.
The fees for the on-site program are currently set at $2000 for first-year test-croppers. Program fees cover everything described in the Program Details section above. Fees do not include farm inputs (seeds, particular soil amendments, greenhouse supplies etc), irrigation equipment used on your plot, personal tools, marketing and distribution costs, or office expenses to run your start-up farm. Test-croppers are expected to identify their own operational expenses and to manage and finance their farm budgets.
The Cliff Gazee Bursary
This bursary was created in appreciation to Cliff Gazee for years and years (and years!) of dedicated leadership in the cause of justice and equity in our community, including serving as the past Chair of Just Food. The funds for our first bursary were generously donated by Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company.
The Cliff Gazee Bursary is available each year for one to two test-croppers who require financial assistance to participate in the Start-Up Farm Program. The bursary is meant to provide greater access to the program from a wider diversity of participants.
Small loans are available to test-croppers through a partnership between Just Food and the Ottawa Community Loan Fund, to help cover start-up costs at the beginning of your growing season. Loans must be repaid at the end of the growing season. Upon acceptance into the program, interested test-croppers can meet with an OCLF representative. If a loan is right for them, applications are submitted directly through OCLF. Ottawa residents only.
An information session will be held in July 2016 for the following season. Applications for the 2017 growing season will open in the summer of 2016.
Applicants will be evaluated based on the following criteria:
1) Relevant experience and skills:
- Crop production experience – Applicants must have on-farm experience, or equivalent, with the crops they wish to produce
- Business experience not required but is an asset
- Relevant courses/conferences/training (in agriculture or business) are an asset
2) Clarity of your farm project plan and ideas:
- What will be grown? How much? Why the selected product(s)?
- How will product be sold, distributed, marketed?
- Research or evidence to support your marketing plan is an asset
- Specific markets/customers identified or contacted is an asset
3) Available time and labour to commit to the farm project:
- Minimum of 20 hours/week per farm team strongly recommended, but hours could be much higher
- Additional labour as back-up besides the test-cropper is an asset
- Regular site visits are essential (eg. working on your plot several times per week)
4) Financial support/stability to mitigate risk while starting a farm project:
- Test-croppers should not expect farm project to replace any income in Year One
- Identify project costs and plan to manage them
5) Experience working and communicating in a team environment
6) Preference will be given to qualified Ontario-based candidates
- Read about the current farms in the program
- What did we accomplish in 2013?
- A photo tour of the Just Food Farm
For more information, please contact Phil Mount at phil [at] justfood [dot] ca or 613-699-6850 ext. 15.
If you have questions about your own unique experience or situation, and how Just Food can best support you, we encourage you to contact us.