Please note: Applications are now closed for the 2014 growing season. Applications for the 2015 growing season will open in Fall 2014.
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 training, 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 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 (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).
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.
- 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 participants, or test-croppers, growing at the Just Food Farm. Each test-cropper manages their own farm project on a quarter-acre of land (see our About the Farms webpage for details on these farms). Upon successful completion of their first growing season, test-croppers who want to continue and expand their project into a farm business are eligible to scale up to a half-acre plot in their second year, and a full acre in their third. New test-croppers are also 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 at the Just Food Farm 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.
Details for Year One Participants
Up to ten new test-croppers will be admitted into the program for 2014. A test-cropper is someone who is interested in starting a farm business, and wishes to access land, shared infrastructure and training to assist them in testing their business ideas. Each test-cropper will be able to access the following in their first year of the program:
- A quarter-acre of land at the Just Food Farm, which has been planted in cover crop in 2013. 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);
- 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. Each plot will be metered and test-croppers will be charged for their water use at the municipal rate;
- 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 for details;
- Participation in several group learning sessions 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 and indoor workspace, as well as an extensive listing of online resources;
- General liability coverage under Just Food’s insurance plan (for Year One test-croppers only – those continuing in the program will need to obtain their own insurance coverage starting in Year Two);
- 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, other specialty plant crops, or bees. 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 maximum 3-year program, there are minimal options for perennial production. The Just Food Farm site may be able to accommodate small poultry or 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 planning, sourcing inputs (seeds, mulch, etc.), planting and tending crops, harvesting, distribution, marketing and sales. By participating in training and group learning sessions, 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, Just Food hosts other partnership programs that are farming on-site, including the Farmworks program with Operation Come Home, and the Karen Community Farm with KLEO (Karen Learning and Education Opportunities). Partnerships are also in the works with the Ottawa Food Bank, Permaculture Ottawa, and a Children’s Garden Program.
See the map for a site plan. (Note that land to be cultivated in Years 1, 2 and 3 is not referring specifically to the Start-Up Farm program, but to broader use by many partners.)
The Just Food Farm is accessible by public transit (OC Transpo bus routes 94 and 128).
The Just Food Farm is in the process of obtaining organic certification, 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 (in Years 2 and 3); 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. Test-croppers who meet all the certification requirements can be certified organic during their second season on-site.
A series of structured training courses are designed to support new farmers in their transition to a successful business. Courses are concentrated in winter and early spring before the growing season begins, to allow test-croppers to integrate their learning into their operations. These courses are supplemented with additional information throughout the season. 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. Specific course dates will be confirmed upon acceptance into the program.
Most 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.
To see the course topics and schedule, please visit our Farmer Training Workshops page.
In addition to the formal training, program meetings are held once a month for all test-croppers and program staff, from May through September. These sessions allow test-croppers to share their experience and results to date, identify common challenges and opportunities for collaboration, and raise questions for discussion or future learning, with additional resources brought forward to deal with these questions. These sessions are facilitated by the program managers, 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 $1600 for Year One 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, water usage on your plot, personal tools, marketing and distribution costs, or office expenses to run your project. Test-croppers are expected to identify their own operational expenses and to manage and finance their farm budgets.
Fees for test-croppers continuing into Years Two and Three are determined based on operating costs and specific business needs. These fees will be established in the fall of each year for the following growing season.
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.
Please note, the application process for the 2014 program is now closed. Applications for the 2015 growing season will open in Fall 2014.
If you have questions about the program, or about your own unique experience or situation, please contact Leela Ramachandran at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-699-6850 ext. 15.