Beyond the Market Gives a Hand Up to New Northern Farmers

Since 2010, Community Futures along the BC Highway 16 corridor has been working to support agricultural growth by building community and providing professional development for farmers in the region through the Beyond the Market program.

Their most recent project, the New Farm Development Initiative focused on creating resources and providing support to address one of their biggest challenges.

“One of the main differences between agriculture in the North and South is that land access is not the main challenge, it’s access to information, markets, transportation and that all ties in with general business support services,” says Jillian Merrick, Beyond the Market program coordinator based out of Community Futures Fraser-Fort George. “What the North lacks is not farm land, it’s farmers.”

The New Farm Development Initiative provided support to new farm entrants from business concept to implementation. Staff and volunteers provided assistance in guiding new farm entrants through business planning, market research and financial planning for farm operations, as well as providing technical skills through mentorship and hands-on workshops and seminars.

“We saw a need for tailored coaching and training services akin to old extension services for farm entrepreneurs,” says Merrick. “Through the program we provided ground level service to farmers in the start-up or concept development phase, and created a framework for services that would benefit this region the most.”

Addressing the diversity of the region, and consequently the farmers’ needs required a custom approach. The BC Highway 16 region stretches from Valemount in the Rocky Mountains, through the northern interior plateau, to the temperate coastal climate of Terrace. Put in production terms, that’s 50 to 150 frost-free days per year.

“Everyone has a different learning style and availability. Training events are great for people to meet each other and share experiences, but there was a definite need for one-on-one coaching,” Merrick explains. “Coaching services really help with the business planning process, and save a lot of time because the information is directly relevant to the farmer.”

Tessa Young and her husband moved from the Fraser Valley to buy 40-acres near Prince George and pursue their dream of farming, they were in uncharted territory.

“We moved from Maple Ridge without knowing a single person and having never been here before,” says Young. “We connected with Jillian right away, and she coached me in making a business plan and meeting others in the farming community.”

“Getting connected wasn’t just about finding mentors, but finding other people in the same boat with the same interests to encourage each other along,” she adds. “Working with people that already had experience in this area was invaluable to us in finding a direction that was possible for our business.”

In addition to courses and coaching, the New Farm Development initiative produced the “A-Z Guide for New Northern Farmers.” This unique guide was developed out of a series of outreach events in six different communities along the BC Highway 16 corridor. It compiles answers to dozens of farm-related questions from past, present and future farmers in the area.

The “A-Z Guide for New Northern Farmers” and other resources compiled as part of the New Farm Initiative are available at www.beyondthemarket.ca/new-farmers.

Funding: $33,021 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (A0711)