Challenges and solutions for engaging youth in agriculture
We will identify the challenges that are keeping young people from working in agriculture and provide solutions to attract them.
One of our youth in the Market Gardener Training program harvesting lettuce
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Port Alberni Shelter Society
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Large NGO (over 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
North Island College, INEO Employment Services, Alberni Valley Employment Center, Port Alberni Friendship Center
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
There is a lot of farm land available in the area
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
The Alberni Valley has a very favourable climate for agriculture with cool wet winters and hot dry summers. The growing season is, generally, shorter than areas on the east side of Vancouver Island; however, there are sites with microclimates that are suitable to a very wide range of crops. There are 7702 hectares (19,024 acres) of land in the ALR. Only 31711 ha (7832 acres) ‐ about 41% is actively farmed. Over 90% of this is used for livestock production or feed for the livestock industry. Only about 239 hectares (590 acres), is used for vegetables, berries, grapes and other horticultural food crops. The valley produces between 5 and 11% of the food consumed locally.
Agricultural capability maps indicate that 5184 ha could be improved to prime capability with irrigation – only 554 ha are currently irrigated. Land could be converted to higher value crops, with better margins, if there was more water available for irrigation.
The average age of farm operators is 63. Recruitment of young farmers and succession planning are clearly becoming bigger issues over time.
Short clip describing the Incubator Farm program at the Shelter Farm
As part of their training Market Gardeners participate in local farmers markets to gain sales and marketing skills.
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Issue: recruitment of young farmers and succession planning are clearly becoming bigger issues over
A high percentage of existing farmers aged and wanting to retire. The average age of farm operators in the Alberni Valley, in 2006, was 54.4 ‐ up from 52.4 in 2001. The average age in BC was 53.6 and, on Vancouver Island, 54.6 – all have increased since the 2001 census. Only five (3.85%) of the 130 operators are under 35 years old; this has dropped from 10 in 2001. In BC, about 5.93% and, on Vancouver Island, about 4.83%, of farm operators are under 35.
Many farmers are selling their land to developers because the cost of their land is so high that no one can afford to purchase it for farm use. More and more land is being sold to developers that build mega mansions on good farm land. The Agricultural Land Reserve in British Columbia is being eroded away due to pressure from developers and lack of new people going into farming. Food security is at risk as more and more of our food comes from a great distance away and food supply systems are threatened by climate change. Simply stated, we need more young farmers.
The main reason why our youth are not practicing farming is that they have the perception that farming is not lucrative; takes a much longer time to succeed in agriculture than in other professions. They want big money in a short period of time. But agriculture is not a one day business. It takes time to develop the skills to be a successful farmer. It takes time to grow and harvest crops. Even farmer parents are hesitant to let their children make farming their career because for the most part it is hard work. The educational systems have unfortunately failed to make agriculture/farming a part of their curriculum and have not encouraged youth to consider this as a career. Most colleges no longer offer agricultural programs and those that do are modeled after the large industrial agricultural system. The model of large scale farming is not accessible to our youth because it requires a large financial investment. The largest barrier to starting a farm is the cost of land and equipment. Financial institutions will not finance young entrepreneurs wanting to start a farm.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
The Shelter farm will remove barriers to engaging youth in careers as Market Gardeners by:
- providing hands on learning opportunities for youth in Market Gardening.
- utilizing Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to engage youth in online learning of small
scale farming methods, business management and marketing.
- providing employment opportunities for farm interns throughout the growing season.
- offering our farm interns access to land, equipment and guided instruction in Market Gardening through
our farm incubator program.
- demonstrating a successful model of small scale farming as a profitable business.
- assisting our farm interns with their business and marketing plans so they can successfully apply for
business loans from lending institutions.
- providing training in small scale farm business management and marketing of produce. Our interns will
also be shown how to develop a business and marketing plan that can be used to obtain a business loan.
- utilizing all facets of social media to promote small scale farming as a career choice for youth.
- encouraging our farm interns to act as ambassadors, spreading the word that small scale farming is a
positive career choice for youth.
- hosting local schools so that students may be engaged at the farm in agricultural activities and see it as a
positive career choice.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The outcomes of this intervention will be:
- More young people will be engaged in farming.
- Our farm interns will go on to start their own business and become entrepreneurs improving our local
- More food will be produced locally giving consumers more choices and creating a local market for produce
that our farm interns grow.
- More farms and more farmers will build a strong local food economy improving food security in our
- More jobs will be directly and indirectly created by the Shelter Farm.
- Reduced poverty and homelessness in our community.
- Our youth will be engaged in more positive activities in the community with less influence by crime and
- Our community will have direct access to nutritional food grown on the Shelter Farm at local markets.
- As part of our incubator farm agreement that we develop with our farm interns, a percentage of the food
that they will grow will be provided to the Shelter Society to be used in meal programs; to feed the poor in
community and to be distributed to local food banks.
- We will reduce the carbon footprint of our community and the environmental impact of agriculture by
providing access to locally grown food.
Much research has been done on the therapeutic benefit of working with plants and animals. Many of the
people presently involved at the farm have issues with mental illness. They are feeling better about
themselves and building confidence in their abilities by contributing to society in a positive way. We will also
work with young offenders helping them get back to work.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
We want to provide education that is designed for and directly engages young people. The Shelter Farm has partnered with North Island College, (NIC) to develop the Market Gardener training program with both in-class learning and hands-on experiential learning at the Shelter Farm. Our farm interns will be engaged in
learning the latest methods in Market Gardening and have access to all the tools and technology required to
show them how to be successful. NIC will provide the business management training and communication
knowledge that young entrepreneurs require to be successful at small scale farming. The Shelter Farm will
provide hands-on experiential learning in greenhouse management and market gardening methods.
Land is often scarce and difficult to access for young people, and without collateral getting credit to buy land
is next to impossible. The Shelter Farm will offer our farm interns easier access to land through our
Incubator Farm program. We'll provide the equipment they require, mentor, guide and instruct them in small
scale farming. Shelter Farm has access to 140 acres of farm land for our farm interns to grow crops on. We
have purchased the farm equipment required to host our training programs.
Agriculture and small businesses need innovative financing.The Shelter Farm will provide practical training
in Market Gardening business management and marketing of produce. We'll show our interns how to
develop a business plan that can be used to obtain a business loan. To make agriculture profitable the
costs of farming and doing business must be reduced at the same time as productivity increases. Small
scale farms can be highly productive with low labour costs. The Shelter Farm will demonstrate how a small
scale farm of 1 acre can be profitable.
The current agricultural system under-utilizes social media and innovative technologies.The Shelter Farm
will produce a promotional video of our Incubator Farm Program to engage the youth as farm interns at the
farm. We will use social media to demonstrate how a career as a Market Gardener is possible through our
Farm Incubator and Intern Programs at the Shelter Farm. Information and Communication Technologies
(ICT) can be used to educate and train those unable to attend higher education institutions. ICT can also be
used as a tool to help young people spread knowledge, build networks, and find employment. The Shelter
farm will develop online training modules and YouTube videos on Market Gardening making this information
available to anyone around the world. ICT can also reduce the costs of business transactions, increasing
agriculture’s profitability. Our Farm Interns will be trained in utilizing computer software and the latest apps
available for crop planning, marketing and sales of produce.
Flowers are grown at the farm to attract bees and other beneficial insects
Most of our produce is sold to local chefs that love our fresh produce
Garden beds showing turnips, peas and newly planted flowers
Market Gardener students building garden beds with the BCS walk behind tractor, seeding turnips, transplanting tomatoes.
Shelter Farm is located on 140 acres of land with 50 acres cleared for cultivation. The aerial photo shows the three areas that we currently have in production cultivating vegetable crops. This space is being used as the training site for the Market Gardener Training program. Farm interns can apply to access land through our Incubator Farm program.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?