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Regenerating the landscape & food system in the world's largest potential carbon sink: Canada

Empowering new & young regenerative farmers to steward food systems that sequester carbon & regenerate ecosystems in the Canadian Prairies.

Photo of Sara Dent
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Young Agrarians, is a program of Agrarians Foundation, a federally registered Canadian Charity

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 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.

Regenerative Agriculture today represents a very small sector in the country and requires supports to grow. We have a dwindling new farmer population 35 and younger that represents only 9% of the 1.6% of Canadians who farm. Young Agrarians began in 2012 as a farmer2farmer resource network to support new and young farmers in Canada. Our team delivers programs, collaborates with new and young farmers, farm and food organizations, local and provincial governments, educators and universities. In the Prairies, we work with a dynamic group of farmers to host on-farm educational events, as well as the following organizations for programming: Holistic Management Canada, Organic Alberta, University of Alberta, Food and Water Wellness, Rural Routes to Climate Solutions, SaskOrganics, Harvest Moon Society, and the County of Grande Prairie. These relationships create a multi-stakeholder network that works to support and grow the next generation of regenerative land stewards.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Nanaimo, B.C. is the location of head office. We run a remote office and have staff and contractors across Western Canada.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The farmers we work with are spread across the prairies including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba: 520,000 square kilometres!

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

As a farmer2farmer resource network, we are connected to place through the land- the thousands of acres that our ecological farmers represent. In 2015, we began working in the prairies through farmers in the Red Deer, Alberta area organizing YA events on their farms. This led to a collaboration with Organic Alberta, and the creation of the Young Agrarians Apprenticeship program; this program provides on farm training to new and young farmers so they get the hands-on learning experience to manage land ecologically. 

While farmers in the YA network are spread out across a large landscape, their farms represent at this stage less than 100,000 square kilometres. We hope in the future we represent hundreds of thousands of future acres that are in regenerative and holistic management frameworks.

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 Place are colonized Indigenous lands and territories - today called in English - the Prairies grasslands, which have been tilled, drilled (oil and gas extraction), levelled, ditched with soils denuded through industrial agriculture. These places were once resplendent water sheds and perennial grassland systems. There are Indigenous peoples and organizations, as well as conservation groups working to recover the ecosystem, however there is currently a large gap around food production and agriculture, that has enormous potential for a future with healthy foodlands that are based in ecological land use practices.

To localize the place in context, pictured here is the town of Red Deer, Alberta, that has an emergent group of new and young land stewards practicing holistic management and organic growing practices. We need hundreds more of these holistic and organic land managers to emerge and transition the foodscape. 

Imagine a field with only annual crops and pesticide application, transitioning back into a perennial grassland (as shown in Takota Coen's video)- organic matter goes back into the soils, root systems can permeate down again several feet, and the plants above can pull carbon from the atmosphere back down into the earth. Water in Takota's example is planned into the landscape and provides the anchor for a healthy ecology and food system. 

The climate here is cold, winters are long and freezing for months. The rain season is short, approximately 2-4 weeks in spring annually. To farm in this area is a challenge, and takes strong farmers, and educated communities of support, and customers. 

The farmers we work with are building food systems (animal, vegetable, grain, etc.) that revitalize ecology and create healthier nutrient cycles that nourish communities, and the flora and fauna that feed us. The hopes of the land stewards we work with are diverse and include:

Revitalizing small-scale diversified and ecological food systems through good land management practices;

Relocalizing food economies through educated consumers;

Providing spaces for people to celebrate food, find health and well-being; 

For a healthy environment with vibrant ecological systems; and,

A just world where all people have access to good food and water. 

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.

ENVIRONMENT: Industrialized agriculture is creating loss of soils and soil fertility, impacting watersheds adversely, and increasing ecosystem toxicity annually. This makes the environment less ecologically resilient and increasingly vulnerable to changing weather systems. Across the Prairies we have seen significant loss of crop yields, biodiversity, and ecosystems collapse. Meanwhile, the price of land continues to increase and farm inputs continue to drive an agricultural system that cannot make ends meet.

CULTURE & DIET: The farmers we work with face significant isolation in rural areas and need social interactions (rural isolation and mental health are a constant challenge for farmers in Canada in general). Our new and young farmers are deeply concerned about climate change and want to make the world a better place with their hands. Many live in industrialized landscapes that are food deserts and come to food because of personal health challenges. They work in agriculture because they want access to clean foods and to provide solutions to the industrial food paradigm. This however is very challenging in the current economic system, which is why so few young people are entering into agriculture today. With the rising cost of food there are increasing social challenges around access to food.

ECONOMICS & POLICY: New farmers face enormous hurtles to access to land and equipment, infrastructure and capital. The land base continues to get more expansive because of unsustainable economic inflation. Policy over the past several decades has focused on scaling up farms and the export of commodity foods globally. Because of this, the farmers we work with have significant regulatory and infrastructure challenges for their small-scale and diversified farms.

TECHNOLOGY: The industrialized agriculture system has dominated the landscape with large machinery to manage thousands of acres of mono-cropping systems across the Country. These agri-tech inputs are expensive and require exhaustive farm management practices to keep up with expenses and attempt to balance these with revenues. This leaves many Canadian farmers vulnerable to slim margins, and result in a decreasing number of farms in Canada annually.

If the above challenges aren't actively remediated moving forward, the future looks bleak.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our Vision to revitalize Prairie Grasslands long-term will put a system of supports in place to overcome structural barriers for new and young ecological farmers, grow communities of practice, and weather climate adaptation through ecosystem services that sequester carbon and also produce nutrient dense foods. We will do this through building social capital through farmer2farmer engagement, by advancing our program work, and by having those farmers represent themselves and their work to stakeholders.

We work both at the structural level to create change through our network of stakeholders and practitioners, and the landscape level to remediate and grow ecological food systems. Our grow-a-farmer development strategy works to:

1) Bring people together online to access resources and opportunities,

2) Bring people together in real time on their farms and in their communities through educational events to network, connect, share knowledge, and build life-long relationships,

3) Provide farmer2farmer services such as business mentorship, on-farm training, and land matching services to ensure that new and young farmers can start viable farms.

4) Work with stakeholders who provide key niche functions within the local, regional and provincial food system.

Currently we have a small group of ecological land stewards, and in the coming decades we aim to grow these practitioners through training and support programs that scale across the Prairies. Many farmers in our network come to food because of health issues, and work in agriculture because they want access to clean foods and to feed their communities. By 2050 we envision communities with access to nutrient dense foods grown by farmers who have access to land and tools to sequester carbon.

YA works to advocate for scale appropriate farming that can weather climate change and the economics of food production. We support our farmers to gain the educational knowledge needed to manage their businesses. Local farms will be a major driver in a future circular economy. In 2050, we envision vibrant food systems, that provide the economic foundations for resilient local economies.

The technologies used by our farmers today range from electric solar fencing, to tools designed for small-scale application, to smart phones for farm management, and so-on. In 2050, we hope that agricultural technologies work to enhance ecological systems for healthy soils and water systems.

We work with governments at the local, regional and provincial scales in Canada to deliver programs for new farmers. We are a voice at the table for the next generation of agricultural ecologists to ensure that policy makers and legislators understand the barriers and challenges. In collaboration with other food and farm organizations in Canada, by 2050, the goal will be a federal food policy and framework that priorities Indigenous food systems and agro-ecological farms for a diversified and national food sovereignty.

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.

YA's Future Vision is that we will have vibrant local food systems and economies that provide meaningful work for future generations and support healthy communities and places: 

- That local food systems will be the corner stone of vibrant places; 

- That peoples lives will be rich in meaning because they are rich in community, good foods, and respect for the land; 

- That people won't suffer from rural isolation, that they will be well connected to each other through the practice of culture and food; 

- That medicine and health will be based in 'good, clean and fair' (Slow Food International's motto) food systems; 

- That communities will support their local land and food stewards; 

- That there will be resilient relocalized economies of place that enable people to buy and afford good rather than cheap food. 

We have a lot of work to do to reach our Vision. Help us grow the work and a future generation of ecological land stewards in the world's biggest potential carbon sink!

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

In 2050, we envision a future where culture and place are revitalized through respectful relationships to the land- where ECOLOGY is at the heart of our culture, it drives food growing practices, policy, technology, relocalizes economies, feeds and nourishes people, and enables our environments to weather climate change. 

Together, we envision a future where our lands have been put back into ecological use practices at scale, through a multi-stakeholder process (first nations, farmers, food systems organizations, researchers, governments, etc.), that relocalizes economies of place, and builds a viable, ecological, food future. 

We believe that by growing and supporting a new generation of ecological land stewards today through a multi-stakeholder approach and strategic on-the-ground programming, we can build a collective future that is regenerative. By 2050, our vision is to have hundreds of new farmers in our network who are sequestering millions of tons of carbon annually through re-established perennial grasslands (estimated at 54 to 216 million tons of carbon annually by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Our Prairies programming has significant potential not just for Canada, but for the world to reduce global carbon emissions and draw atmospheric carbon back into the soil through revitalizing perennial grassland ecosystems. The prairie grasslands are considered the largest future potential carbon sink in the world. Through the training of a new generation of holistic land managers, we will work to grow and support farmers practicing regenerative agriculture, for the long-term health of the land and food systems. 

By 2050 we envision a world that has been able to re-establish healthy carbon systems that mean we live in a just and socially equitable world. Here in Canada we envision a vibrant food culture, farmers who have created incredible gardens of hope and life, who live in integrated communities with resplendent ecosystems and food sovereignty for all.

We find hope in the land and the food systems innovators that are weaving ecologies back into our communities! The work we do in Canada is inspired by and inspires food and farm leaders globally. We connect weekly to people at home and around the world and have seen how our community-building networking activities have inspired farmers in other areas facing the same challenges we have here in Canada. We are so excited to be part of this visioning process with communities from around the world. 

Check out the #noregrets initiative, one of the incredible networks we are apart of that is leading the way for Holistic Management and carbon sequestration through soils.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Website
  • Several other groups in our community!
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Attachments (2)

document (1).pdf

A paper written on the results from a national survey on new and young farmers in Canada.

Evaluation Summary U of A YA Alberta Programs.docx

Summary of research evaluation partnership with the University of Alberta to develop evaluation tools and survey for Young Agrarians Alberta programming.


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