On the outskirts of Fredericton, a historic farm has been given a new life as the home of one of Canada’s first Regenerative Farming Certificate (RFC) programs.
Across the country, the generational model of farm succession is becoming less and less prevalent. While there is a growing interest in careers in agriculture from a diverse group of new farmers, many do not have a personal history or formal training in agriculture. Coupled with the urgent need for climate solutions, these trends have created a demand for RFC programs that provide a holistic approach to farming that focuses on improved environmental, social, and economic conditions.
The need for this type of training and support is huge in New Brunswick, where the number of farms has decreased by 90 percent since 1950 (Everybody Eats, NB Food Security Action Network) and only 8 percent of all vegetables purchased are now grown in-province (Local Food and Beverages Strategy, Government of New Brunswick). The troubling state of province’s agricultural landscape inspired the New Brunswick Community Harvest Gardens to undertake a feasibility study for a new training farm, right inside Fredericton’s city limits.
The feasibility study proved that there was a will and a demand for an RFC program in Fredericton, and a site for the teaching farm was selected. Once a 500-acre farm, the former Upper Hayes Farm has a history of dairy production, homesteading, and collie raising. Severed and fallow for several years, the property was suggested as a potential site for a new teaching farm that could address growing demand for a RFC program in the region. The land remains in the original family, which has expressed a desire to maintain it as a farm that benefits the community.
A small team of passionate and motivated individuals worked to prepare the land, build the curriculum, and recruit a pilot cohort of students throughout 2017. In early 2018, the New Brunswick Community Harvest Gardens launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the develop the curriculum and purchase essential infrastructure and equipment. The group received an outpouring of support from the community, surpassing its fundraising goal of $30,000.
The pilot program launched in the spring with a cohort of six future farmers. “As a first-year farm, every day was a milestone. Each new row planted, each lesson understood, each new face involved in the farm, and each carrot pulled was an achievement,” exclaimed Clare May, Outreach Coordinator for the project.
The Hayes Farm was established to foster new farmers who are capable of operating their own farms in a profitable, regenerative way. It is tailored for participants with minimal farming experience and designed to provide them with the skills necessary to pursue rewarding careers in agriculture. “Those most interested in a career of farming are coming to the sector with a lot of passion, but little related experience or skill, as well as significant difficulty in acquiring capital and access to land,” explains May. “The Hayes Farm offers a farm education that focuses on the production, business, and societal aspects of agriculture, allowing a graduate to step confidently into the field.”
The program is 32-weeks long and the core of the curriculum includes four courses: Crop Production, The Business of Farming, Farm Philosophy, and Beyond the Farm. From these courses, the program provides a solid foundation in responsibly producing for profit. Students run a vegetable stand, selling fresh produce to the public and additional produce is sold through Community Supported (CSA) shares. During the summer, the farm’s produce was also purchased by local restaurants eager to support the project.
Despite the incredible success of Hayes Farm, the first season was not without challenges. Establishing a farm and developing a certificate program simultaneously is a major undertaking. Finding adequate on-farm labour proved to be particularly difficult this year due to a lack of funding for program participants. May hopes that expanded offerings in the years to come will help to secure participation in the program.
With six new farmers trained in the pilot program this year, the Hayes Farm is already contributing to food security and sovereignty in Fredericton. “I dream that the Hayes Farm plays an integral role in rehabilitating New Brunswick’s agricultural landscape to one that is food secure and food sovereign,” said May.