By Wendy Elliott
Farmers all over Kings County are starting to work their soil after a long winter – and young farmers are especially eager. Emily te Bogt has been putting in a lot of hard work on the new high tunnel where she is planning to plant organic vegetables. Eventually, five acres will be under cultivation.
Te Bogt is the third generation to farm on her family’s Lower Wolfville land, but she is the first to venture into mixed farming. She prides herself on chemical-free produce.
Having studied plant science at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, te Bogt sold her produce on the side of Highway 1 last summer and is offering Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) shares this year. She also has a booth at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market lined up again.
Te Bogt also has a small herd of 10 sheep, which is growing with spring lambs. She also has laying hens and shares some grass-fed cattle with her sister, Susan.
Having helped with the family’s dairy operation since she was 12, te Bogt always had becoming a farmer in the back of her head. During a high school co-op course, she checked out a career as a forestry technician and concluded, “it wasn’t what I wanted.”
Her training, networking with other like-minded farmers through the Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network (ACORN) and family support have carried te Bogt this far. Since 2000, ACORN has been an information centre regarding organic agriculture, eating organics and connecting all the parts together.
Wolfville native Justine Sturgeon didn’t grow up on a farm, but she discovered she loves the lifestyle. She and her partner, Nathan Mentink, are also welcoming lambs this month.
The young couple is being mentored by Bill Crowson of Ross Creek atop the North Mountain. They live in a second house on the farm and are raising sheep, four pigs, free-range chickens and offering a CSA.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love being in the garden and getting my hands dirty,” she says. Mentink adds that it’s comforting to know that their animals are in the barn back home.
Neither can afford to farm full-time. Mentink spends his days as a carpenter, while Sturgeon works at Taproot Farm in Port Williams, where she gains additional mentoring from owners Patricia Bishop and Josh Oulton. Jeff McMahon of Kingsport is another supportive farmer both te Bogt and Sturgeon mention.
Sturgeon works a modified week so that she can do the chores on her farm as it grows while still having an income. Initially, she believed that farmers are underappreciated, but after meeting with CSA members, she’s feeling more satisfied that some consumers appreciate locally grown food.
Having grown up on a dairy farm, Mentink felt a definite pull toward agriculture, but he was unwilling to take on the commitment of a dairy herd.
Crowson’s love for the land, he mentions, is a motivating factor.
“He’s a terrific mentor,” Mentink said.
The couple feel they can explore farming and “make sure it’s something we want to do” under his guidance.
Bishop says she and her husband are glad able to offer young farmers meaningful work and experience before they launch into their own farm ownership.
Terri Dillon and her partner Jon are also working at Taproot. She says they want to have a farm of their own and are gaining valuable experience in Port Williams.
Dillon says they spent the last growing season on a small farm on the South Shore, managing and growing for a 60-person CSA and a couple of farmer's markets.
“We are thrilled to be working at TapRoot, as we have a plan to have our own farm someday and see lots we can learn on this very productive farm,” she said.
Growing up in Manitoba, she helped her mother in a large market garden. She met her partner while working at a retail organic produce company in Calgary.
“We realized our shared passion for growing things and made the decision to move across the country, to Jon's roots on the East Coast (P.E.I),” Dillon said.
She adds that they have “already learned that we work with amazing people, dedicated to providing others with great, healthy food.”
Taproot is also employing two apprentices this growing season.
Young farmers are becoming rare, however. The Statistics Canada 2011 Census of Agriculture shows that farm youth continue leaving their farms. About 20 years ago, almost 20 per cent of farmers were under 35 and by 2006, less than 10 per cent of farmers qualified for this distinction. In 2011, only 8.2 per cent of farmers were in this energetic age category.