Ontario Independent

Saturday, January 29, 2022

In northern Ontario, a new grant intends to expand ecological agriculture

A new grant will help northern Ontario expand its ecological agriculture

Key takeaways:

  • A new federal funding stream is available to help ecological agriculture startups in northern Ontario by covering half of eligible equipment costs for new farmers.

A new federal funding stream to support ecological agriculture startups in northern Ontario by covering half of the eligible equipment costs for new farmers is now available.

The new pilot program was announced last week by the Ecological Farmers’ Association of Ontario. EFAO connects participants with mentorship opportunities in addition to partially funding eligible expenses through a FedNor grant.

Ecological agriculture is defined as agriculture that improves soil health, protects biodiversity and water sources, reduces synthetic chemical use, and uses renewable energy sources using regenerative, holistic, or organic practices.

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EFAO’s director of northern outreach and new farmer programs is Allison Muckle. She explained that while the grant program is small, it allows her organization to focus on underserved farmers and greater impact in the north.

“I believe that supporting these types of smaller-scale farms that are often selling directly to their customers helps the local food economy,” Muckle said.

Farmers who are new to ecological farming can apply for a total of $80,000 through the pilot project.

Agriculture is experiencing a succession crisis.’

According to Muckle, programs that encourage young people to try farming are critical in ending the “farm succession crisis.” She claims that the average age of farmers has risen to over 50 and that many will retire soon with no plans in place for who, if anyone, will take over their businesses.

“There are a lot of people who want to get into agriculture, but there are a lot of barriers,” Muckle said, citing the high cost of starting a farm, particularly current land prices, as major barriers to entry that are getting worse over time.

A new grant will help northern Ontario expand its ecological agriculture
A new grant will help northern Ontario expand its ecological agriculture. Image from northern Ontario Business

The FedNor grant, administered by EFAO, will cover half of the cost of starting a farm, up to $10,000 per farm. Greenhouses, processing equipment, and fencing are just a few examples of eligible equipment.

Until January 14, 2022, the pilot is in an initial-inquiry phase. The EFAO will invite promising proposals to submit a formal application.

Funding aimed at assisting the younger generation

Many younger farmers, according to Muckle, are drawn to agriculture because of more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, especially as climate change becomes a more prominent issue.

“I believe there are a lot of younger people or people who are thinking about changing careers who are interested in farming,” she said. She stated that there was some interest during the first few days of the pilot in late December.

According to FedNor spokesperson Barclay Babcock, this program is part of a $245,892 grant given to EFAO in 2020 to promote sustainable agriculture and attract young farmers who can help the sector innovate.

“Given that new, little farm startups tend to be youth and women-owned and concentrated on sustainable production practices,” he said, the program aligns with the inclusion and clean technology sections of Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan.

Another FedNor investment, according to Babcock, is the Sustainable New Agri-food Products and Productivity (SNAPP) program at the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre aims to overcome barriers in northern Ontario’s agri-food sector.

Source: CBC News

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