After her husband passed away in 2004, Pam Jenkins had no desire to leave the fifth-generation farm where the couple had raised their three children.
But as time passed, Jenkins felt overwhelmed looking after the half section of land near Selkirk on her own. Outbuildings needed repairs or demolition. Weeds were spreading.
Then she learned of the Organic Food Council of Manitoba (OFCM) and its plans to start a Manitoba Farm Mentorship program. She attended a planning meeting where she met Sharon Taylor and Estevan Sojo Calderon.
They were looking for a small plot of land to get a start in market gardening.
“My husband is from a farm family in Costa Rica, and I’d been an aspiring farmer since about 2000,” said Taylor. “We’d done some internships and volunteering and realized we were really interested in pursuing farming ourselves.”
STRUCK A DEAL
Jenkins, Taylor and Sojo Calderon struck a deal. The pair would live rent free in a double-wide trailer Jenkins had on her property in return for access to about five acres of her land. In exchange, Taylor and Sojo Calderon would help Jenkins keep the place up.
Taylor and Sojo Calderon stayed three summers, beginning in 2007. They took down an old barn and farmhouse Jenkins wanted removed and they transformed a former feedlot overtaken by weeds into a rich garden.
“It all worked out really well,” says Jenkins. The couple decided not to return this spring, but in their place has come another would-be farmer to live on the property.
In exchange for grass mowing and other help provided to Jenkins, 27-year-old Alexis Nazeravich is now growing a large garden on the property and direct marketing her veggies in Winnipeg.
These arrangements are the sort of relationship the OFCM is trying to forge between more landowners and what they call “land seekers” through its Land Link program.
They got the idea from a similar program offered in the U.S., where a classified section on the Vermont New Farmer Project’s website helps aspiring young farmers find farms, or a tract of land or employment opportunities, said Taylor, who today is co-ordinator of the Manitoba Farm Mentorship program.
OFCM’s website posts notices by both those with some land available and those looking.
“Basically, it’s a way for landowners and land seekers to connect,” said Taylor.
To date, they’ve had about a half-dozen postings of land. They also hear regularly from those looking for it, she said. In most cases, the owners don’t wish to sell. Some want to rent . Others just want to work out some sort of arrangement with someone willing to make it productive again.
They tend to be offers of just a few acres of land, and that’s all most of those who inquire about what’s available want anyways.
This is an ideal option for someone eyeing a small-scale food production venture, said Taylor. Because if you don’t know anyone with any land, you’re stuck.
“One of the biggest barriers is that land is so costly,” she said. “A unique type of exchange where a landowner is willing to make land available, either for free or low rent is very helpful for people trying to get a start.”
That’s her situation, says Nazeravich, who completed a farm internship in 2006 in Ontario through the Collaborative Regional Alliance Farmer Training (CRAFT) program.
“I’m only 27 now, so obviously I don’t have a lot of money saved up to buy land or even to rent land and startup costs are extreme,” she said.
“This gave me an opportunity to make this tangible and feasible without having to incur that financial risk. And it also allows me some grounds to show myself what I’m capable of, and learn what kinds of markets are out there.”
Land Link promotion is mostly by word of mouth; they receive inquiries almost every month from people looking for small tracts of land, Taylor said. They expect those contacting Land Link to be sincere about their plans to start farming, and flexible enough to strike arrangements that will suit both parties.
Jenkins said some thought she must be “a little wingy” when they heard about the arrangement she’d made. She says it does take special people to make this work out.
“I found this very successful. It was a win-win situation and it still is. Alexis is doing a great job.”
To link to OFCM’s website log on to:http://organicfoodcouncil.org/click on Manitoba Farm Mentorship and follow the links.
“Auniquetypeofexchange wherealandowneriswilling tomakelandavailable, eitherforfreeorlowrent isveryhelpfulforpeople tryingtogetastart.”
– SHARON TAYLOR, MANITOBA FARM MENTORSHIP CO-ORDINATOR