A new land access guide is available for anyone who has no land in New Brunswick but wants to be a farmer.
We need farmers as much as they need land. According to the 2021 Local Food and Beverage Strategy, New Brunswick produces less than eight per cent of all of the produce that we consume. It is only realistic to expect that with climate change, the pandemic and political instability we will continue to see food shipment delays, price spikes and shortages. All New Brunswickers need more growers focused on ecological agriculture and keeping food local.
The new guide is meant to highlight creative ways that new and young farmers can access land without outright purchasing it. While there are drawbacks to working on land that you don’t own, it may also afford new farmers years of experience while they get their finances in order or find the perfect site for their operation. In fact, some farmers may prefer land access alternatives like leasing to owning land, as the unpredictability of farming while carrying debt makes for a potentially stressful existence.
The guide focuses on small to medium sized farming operations and is aimed at ecological or regenerative producers.
You might wonder why we need a land access guide in a province where there is so much land available, for one, the average age of a New Brunswick farmer is 56 years old. There are some signs of promise, the New Brunswick Agricultural census in 2016 found that, “For the first time in more than two decades, the number of farm operators younger than age 35 rose, from 225 to 260. This translated to a 16 per cent increase in the number of young farmers.”
However, they also found that, “The number of farm operators 55 years and older decreased by 175, suggesting that more farmers retired without being replaced. Overall, however, the average age remained virtually unchanged.”
While younger folks may have a strong understanding of global food systems and a passion for things like agro-ecology and community development, they also tend to have large student loan debts (often for non-agricultural programs of study). Their existing debt load and more stringent requirements on loan guarantees often leave young people without access to credit to purchase land.
Also, many new farmers do not come from a family farm background where they would inherit land and production equipment. While land prices in New Brunswick remain low compared to the rest of Canada, the cost of infrastructure and equipment is not any lower.
The guide was prepared by the RAVEN Project (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment) that works with and supports champions for sustainable rural communities and the environment in New Brunswick.
Project investigators realized a need to work on food sovereignty related to climate and rural issues. In January 2020, RAVEN launched the Growing a Better Future Project to explore opportunities for small-scale food production.
The following summer, RAVEN started working with TOASA, a newly formed co-operative for landless farmers. They requested support for developing leasing templates that members could use for the 2022 growing season.
The Young Agrarians of B.C stepped up to partner with the RAVEN Project. They have developed a rich offering of resources for new and young farmers, including land access guides for Alberta and British Columbia, a map with farming opportunities Canada-wide, social meet-ups and a land matching service.
Based on the Young Agrarian guide for BC, RAVEN developed the guide for New Brunswick then worked with a local legal firm to ensure the template agreements included were legally appropriate for use in this province.
The guide contains an overview of different types of land access situations – community farms, incubator plots, leases, rent-to-own, farm succession, etc., as well as documents such as lease templates and a checklist on how to thoroughly prepare agreements with the landowner to be ready for legal review (and hopefully reduce hours spent in legal fees).
The Guide also includes stories from eight New Brunswick growers who found creative and interesting ways to access farmland and a list of 70 different resources to help get started.
RAVEN has made the guide free for download here. The project is asking everyone to please share widely and reach out with any questions.
Amy Floyd is a Senior Food Security Policy Analyst with the RAVEN Project and focuses on rural issues, food sovereignty and permaculture. She can be reached at Amy@RAVEN-research.org.