Farming without the risk: one group's push to promote local growers
Under the hot sun Jenny Throop and Ryan Christie inspect their crops, pulling out weeds from between the rows of produce on their small plot of land.
Although there is nothing to harvest just yet there are signs of progress.
"We love growing food so it just came naturally to us," said Throop as she admires her growing pea sprouts.
Throop and her partner Ryan Christie grow about 40 different types of produce on a plot of land run by the Just Food Farm. It's a not-for-profit group that aims to make farming more accessible to Ottawa area residents. The group does that by offering a training program as well as affordable land leases to people interested in learning to farm.
"It's a significant investment for anyone and let alone just investing in land these days is ridiculous," said Just Food Farm's Associate Director Phil Mount.
According to Statistics Canada the average age of a farmer has increased significantly over the last decade, with the total number of farmers and farms in Canada also on the decline. Mount said the community farm in Blackburn Hamlet is way to expose more people to farming.
"Before you take that step you want to try it out and this gives you a good sense of where you are going to go," Mount said.
The Just Food Farm was started in 2012 with a start-up grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Last year it secured a 25 year land lease from the National Capital Commission. The group occupies 150 acres of land off Innes Road in Blackburn Hamlet.
"You can feel the urban around you. It doesn't feel like a farm when you are here," Mount said.
About a dozen small scale agriculture businesses call the Just Food Farm home. While each plot of land is its own entity, the farmers are all part of a larger community connected by a shared passion for produce.
"This is my second year ever farming," said Ryan Christie, a full-time civil servant. " Being at the Just Food Farm gives me the chance to learn without having to invest everything we have into buying a farm."
Most of the farmers have full-time jobs and come to the farm on nights and weekends. Others are students or people looking to start a second career.
The Just Food Farm relies on individuals, a few small grants and those who lease land or take part in the training program to cover its costs. The Ontario Trillium Grant expired several years ago.