New grant aims to expand ecological agriculture in northern Ontario



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A new federal funding stream is aimed at supporting ecological agriculture startups in northern Ontario by covering half of new farmers’ eligible equipment costs.

The Ecological Farmers’ Association of Ontario announced the new pilot program last week. In addition to partially funding eligible expenses through a FedNor grant, EFAO connects participants with mentorship opportunities.

Ecological agriculture is defined as agriculture that uses regenerative, holistic or organic practices to improve soil health, protect biodiversity and water sources, reduce synthetic chemical usage and use renewable energy sources.

Allison Muckle is the director of northern outreach and new farmer programs at EFAO. She said the grant program is on the smaller side, but this allows her organization to target underserved farmers and have a bigger impact on the north.

“By supporting these sorts of smaller-scale farms that are often selling direct to their customers, I think that really supports the local food economy,” Muckle said.

The pilot project has a total of $80,000 available for farmers who are new to ecological farming. 

Agriculture faces ‘succession crisis’

Programs such as this, which encourage young people to try out agriculture, are crucial in ending the “farm succession crisis,” said Muckle. She said the average age of farmers is now above 50, and many will retire in the near future without plans for who, if anyone, will take over their operations.

“There’s a lot of people that want to get into the agriculture industry, but there’s a lot of barriers that people are facing,” Muckle said, citing the high cost of starting a farm, particularly current land prices, as major barriers to entry that are worsening over time.

Successful applicants will receive a FedNor grant through EFAO for half the purchase price of the equipment they need to start a farm, up to $10,000 per farm. Eligible equipment includes items such as greenhouses, processing equipment and fencing. 

The pilot is in an initial-inquiry phase until Jan. 14, 2022. EFAO will then invite promising proposals to make a formal application.

Funding meant to help younger generation

Muckle said many younger farmers are drawn to agriculture through more sustainable and ecological practices, especially as climate change becomes a more prominent issue.

“I think there’s a lot of younger people or a lot of people that are maybe thinking of switching careers who are interested in farming,” she said. She said there was already some interest during the first few days of the pilot in late December.

FedNor spokesperson Barclay Babcock said this program is part of $245,892 it gave to EFAO in 2020, with the aim of promoting sustainable agriculture and drawing young farmers who can help innovate the sector.

He said the program aligns with inclusion and clean technology sections of Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan, “given that new, small farm start-ups tend to be youth and women-owned, and focused on sustainable production practices.”

Babcock said the Sustainable New Agri-food Products and Productivity (SNAPP) program at the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre is another FedNor investment that aims to overcome barriers inherent to northern Ontario’s agri-food sector.

Details about the ecological agriculture start-up grant pilot project are published on EFAO’s website.

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