Growing Our Future

Incubator farms give beginning producers a head start.

By Jodi Helmer | Photos By Jeff Bergen

As much as its land grows tomatoes and lettuce, and provides space for laying hens and honeybees, Just Food nurtures new farmers. Like similar programs in Canada and the U.S., the nonprofit organization realized there’s a need to assist those just starting to produce food. It does so through its Start-Up Farm Program on its 150-acre Just Food Farm.

The Start-Up Farm Program allows beginning farmers to get their hands dirty on a small scale.

The Start-Up Farm Program allows beginning farmers to get their hands dirty on a small scale.

“It’s not just the skyrocketing cost of land that makes it hard for farmers to get started,” says Just Food Associate Director Phil Mount. “This close to the city, it can be incredibly difficult [just] to find farmland.”

Launched in early 2013, the Start-Up Farm Program allows beginning farmers to get their hands dirty on a small scale before investing in land and equipment, and also assists them in making connections with those in the market for local produce. At Just Food Farm’s land on the outskirts of Ottawa, 36 farmers have already participated in the program, and 12 more are enrolled for 2017.

Program graduates have the option to lease land at Just Food Farm. The operations of recent Start-Up Farm grads who are now farmer-tenants include a community-supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable farm, an apiary and a native plant nursery. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to take the first steps into urban agriculture,” Mount says.