Dr. Peter Andrée and Kim Bittermann with Ken Meter and Louise Livingstone
This research is grounded in over 30 interviews with farmers from Hastings County and public officials with responsibilities that include Hastings County, as well as data available through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Hastings County, and Statistics Canada. It is also informed by discussions at three public presentations and two asset-mapping workshops (see Appendix A) and policy recommendations prepared by community-based food system consultant Ken Meter.
This report identifies ten major findings about the state of farming in the County, followed by a set of recommendations for both the community and local governments. (Recommendations to provincial and federal governments are pending). As context, we recognize that powerful outside forces, such as international trade agreements, rising energy costs, government and corporate policies and a changing climate, all restrict options for Hastings County farmers. However, some external forces, for example shifting consumer demands, also create opportunities.
Ten Major Findings:
The strong ethic of sustainability
An ethic of sustainable agriculture is strong amongst farmers in Hastings: soil health, community well-being, and economic stability are all important.
The critical challenge of achieving sustainable farm livelihoods
The environmental and social sustainability of farming in Hastings County depends on farmers making a viable livelihood. As costs rise and farm receipts decline, all farmers face this challenge of making a reasonable living.
Three farmer types
We have identified three, overlapping, categories of farmers with specific goals and needs. These categories do not capture all the ways of farming in Hastings County but help to clarify our findings and recommendations. While their farms and farming practices are different, they are all increasingly dependent on one another as neighbours and as members of the farming community:
Adaptive farmers: specialized commodity producers adapting to changing circumstances and surviving by getting bigger when conditions permit; producing corn, soybeans, dairy, poultry, cows and calves, as well as hogs.
Entrepreneurs: diversified producers, selling at farmers’ markets, to restaurants, and through community shared agriculture. Many also add value through processing for local and regional markets.
Heritage farmers: commodity or diversified producers working at a small or medium scale. They are primarily motivated by a commitment to the land, family, community and traditional farming lifestyles.
Off-farm income is both a lifeline and curse
Off-farm income represents an important economic survival strategy for most Hastings County farms, but many farmers wish they did not need it to the extent that they do. Off-farm income is particularly critical for small farms of all types.
The challenge of inter-generational succession
Succession causes challenges for each generation involved. This is especially the case for the large Adaptive farmers with high debt load.
The need to welcome and support new farmers
Retirement of farmers can create opportunities for new farmers. However, there is a need to integrate new, non-traditional, farmers into the rural community and to capitalize on their other experiences and skills.
Community-based food system1 development: an opportunity for collaboration
Hastings County offers opportunities for new, small farm-based businesses serving local and regional markets because of relatively low land prices (to buy or rent) and relatively small parcel sizes. These farmers need capital, mentorship and infrastructure (e.g. farmers markets and food hubs) to take advantage of processing and niche market opportunities.
Regulatory and zoning challenges inhibit growth
While governments do formally support agriculture in various ways, local, provincial and federal laws, regulations and standards can present major barriers to farmers of all types.
Opportunities for peer-to-peer learning
Many Hastings County farmers rely on self-sufficiency strategies, used or shared equipment and direct marketing. Peer-to-peer learning opportunities that allow them to share their strategies and lessons can really help these farmers thrive.
Hope lies in natural assets, community knowledge, resources, and networks
Hope for the future comes from the substantial natural assets the agricultural sector can draw upon, as well as the knowledge base, resources and community networks found in Hastings County, supported by all levels of government.
Recommendations to local governments and community organizations:
More details on these recommendations are provided in the main body of this report.
Recognize the economic crisis in agriculture, and especially the impacts on farmer mental health and that of their families, as a complex set of ongoing and serious challenges. The first step could be for local community organizations to cooperate with national organizations (like the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and National Farmers Union) and local mental health services to convene a meeting on this challenge.
Build on the wealth of agricultural knowledge and experience in the County through field days, workshops, an annual conference and other events that allow new and experienced farmers to learn from one another. Harvest Hastings, in partnership with other local, regional and provincial organizations, can play a lead role in the organization.
“Community-based food systems” are food systems that strive to create stronger affinities among farmers and consumers, for the purposes of building health, wealth, connection, and capacity within Hastings County and neighbouring regions (Meter 2007).
Increase the level of coordination and collaboration among public and non-profit organizations that support agriculture in Hastings County. Begin this process with a database that lists each organization and its role.
Develop a core mission at the county and city levels that commits the municipalities to supporting community-based food system development, building on existing commitments to local agriculture in the official plans and related municipal initiatives.
Develop an inventory of community agriculture and food infrastructure and services important to the community (e.g. farmers’ markets, abattoirs, food hubs, veterinary services) and then identify how to support and maintain this infrastructure.
Undertake feasibility studies to assess potential new community food infrastructure such as modern washing, packing and distribution facilities, where appropriate. Feasibility studies should also consider how to make better use of existing facilities like the Colborne Agri-Food Venture Centre.
Develop virtual food hubs using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Mobilize consumer support through outreach campaigns. For example, a “Buy $5 a week” from Hastings County farms campaign (this would translate into over $35 M/year income for local farms).
Develop a coordinated marketing strategy for Hastings County farmers’ markets and other venues (e.g. restaurants) that sell locally produced foods.
Collaborate with Community Food Centres Canada and like-minded organizations to help local food banks become community centres that provide more than access to emergency food. They can also provide skills development, food literacy, policy advocacy, and work in partnership with local farmers. These centres can also serve as physical community food hubs.
Collaborate with organizations such as Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the National Farmers Union to offer more succession planning and support for all types of farmers.
Collaborate with organizations like Farms at Work and FarmStart to develop more land access and mentoring opportunities for new farmers.
Continue to protect farmland in Hastings County, the City of Belleville and the City of Quinte West by adopting zoning codes, tax incentives or other programs that reduce the cost of land for bona fide agricultural use.
Review all agriculture and food- related regulations (including new bylaws and zoning decisions, etc.) through a ‘small business lens’ to minimize impact on smaller farm businesses.