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Falmouth farmers shift focus to find the right balance

FALMOUTH, N.S. - The Manning Family Farm Market isn’t open anymore, but it’s not because they’re out of the business.

They’re shifting their attention to the recently re-opened and reformatted Farmers’ Market in Windsor.

The Hants County farmers are hoping the added foot traffic will lead to more income and, hopefully, a more sustainable harvest.  

Dean Manning, co-owner of the Manning Family Farm, said he’s hoping residents will continue to support them.

“We decided to focus just on growing as opposed to running our own market, and when the new (Avon Community) Farmers’ Market showed up, we decided to move in to there and it’s worked out quite well.”

They also sell the other products they grow, including fresh produce, beef - and more - to the other local farmers’ markets on a commodity basis.

“Demand has been steady, it’s about finding your specific market and niche,” he said. “It is difficult for small farm markets to compete with the large commodity farms, where they have machine harvesting and we have to pay attention to all of the smaller crops.”

Dean and Catherine Manning of the Manning Family Farm, selling their crops at the Avon Community Farmers’ Market in Windsor.
Dean and Catherine Manning of the Manning Family Farm, selling their crops at the Avon Community Farmers’ Market in Windsor.

It’s a small, family operation. Dean, his wife, Catherine, and their two kids, who are also off at university, run the farm. In the summertime they hire a few students to help out.

They don’t focus on one crop, rather offering a wide array of garden fruit and vegetables depending on the season, which allows them to have highly sought-after products at any time of year.

“If there’s a new crop coming in that people are really excited about, we’ll experiment with it and see how it goes,” he said. “It’s about having a balance, not growing one thing too much.”

The challenge of relying on farmers’ markets is that the consumer has to buy in to it in order for the operation to succeed.

“If people come out and support it, it works out quite well for all involved,” he said.

Aimee Gasparetto is the senior coordinator of community food at the Ecology Action Centre. She said it’s crucial to not only bring more local food into our communities, but also to make sure it’s accessible to all, no matter their economic situation.

“I think we’re starting to see a shift in terms of attitude when it comes to the consumer. They want to know more about what’s going in our food and being conscious about how it impacts our health and our environment,” he said. “But the local food needs to be available in the communities where we live and work.”

One of the big issues facing the province is the shrinking number of farmers.

“Our farmers are aging, many are over 55 and don’t have retirement plans,” she said. “We need to get young people, new Canadians into farming.”

One way to achieve that is to reduce the barriers and costs for new people to get into the industry.

“There needs to be markets, infrastructure, modes of distribution, and training and support for people to get into farming,” she said. “How does someone get into farming without incurring massive amounts of debt to access the land and equipment they need?”

Gasparetto said food security is divided into two components: at a macro level, it’s about ensuring a region produces enough food to sustain itself. At the micro level, it’s about whether families are able to afford healthy, local food.

In both cases, Nova Scotia has a long way to go.

“We are heavily reliant on imports here in Nova Scotia. That alone is something we want to try and shift,” Gasparetto said.

Change, however, won’t happen overnight.

“It’s a multi-faceted approach that we need. We need restaurants to buy from local farmers, schools to get food from local farmers. We need it to be available in our local communities.”

Read the entire BACK ON THE FARM SERIES: A collection devoted to a vital industry in the Annapolis Valley:

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