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Farm Mentorship:

Ashley Cot had begun to walk toward the tour bus that had brought her to visit the St. Claude-area dairy farm when she suddenly turned back.

Could she ask just one more question, she politely asked farm owner Roger Philippe.

For the past hour she d diligently taken notes, pausing occasionally to stoop and give the farm s Rottweiler an affectionate pat while Philippe described his dairy farm operation, taking questions on everything from milk pricing to animal welfare.

A dream of her own small farm, where she could raise a few animals and grow her own food, looms large, says the 25-year-old Winnipegger and University of Manitoba recreation studies graduate.

I think there s security in it, she said, adding food security.

Herme Salinas, also listening in the tour group, has similar aspirations.

An migr from Colombia, Salinas said he and his wife and young daughter once had a small mixed farm not so sophisticated as here in Canada.

I would like again to have a farm, with chickens and maybe geese, he said, apologizing for his hesitant English. Because I know how.

Salinas and Cot were two of about a dozen participants visiting Philippe s farm and one other, plus the small abattoir and retail outlet All Natural Meats at Carman earlier this month.

The tour was hosted by the Manitoba Farm Mentorship program aimed at helping more like Cot and Salinas get a little closer to the farm.

Mentorship programs have developed across Canada in recent years as the local food and food security movements have gained momentum and a need for more smaller-scale farmers has emerged.

The Organic Food Council of Manitoba launched the MFM program in 2009 after seeing much interest in learning to farm among those without farm backgrounds, yet had nowhere to start, said Sharon Taylor, MFM s co-ordinator.

What the Manitoba Farm Mentorship program set out to do was offer training and networking and internship opportunities for these aspiring farmers, she said.

People who want to do this need to know who their peers are. They need to do business planning and to put their dream on paper. They need farm management and production skills.

The program has placed 16 interns over three summers with a variety of Manitoba farmers who ve agreed to serve as mentors. Farm mentors have also served as speakers or tour hosts.

Wannabe farmers approaching the MFM vary widely in their intentions. Some want the internship experience. This year they placed eight interns on various farms for a stint lasting anywhere from one to three months. Cot was one of them. Others have come to them and turned out to be what Taylor describes as toe-dippers, or not prepared to commit to an internship. Those they ve steered towards workshops, tours or their four-week course Exploring Your Small Farm Dream.

They presently have more mentors than interns, but Taylor says that doesn t tell the whole story about demand for mentorship. They re aware of many relationships formed informally outside their program, she said, adding that if there were more resources devoted towards training and support for prospective new farm entrants, she s convinced there d be that much more activity in this area.

The MFM is a grant-based program, with core funding coming from Heifer International Canada (ending 2012) plus support from MAFRI s Agri-Extension Business program (Growing Forward), the Assiniboine Credit Union, and the federal student summer job program.

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I would like again to have a farm, with chickens and maybe geese. Because I know how.

Herme Salinas

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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