Growing Life: Young Nova Scotia Farmers and Social Sustainability
“On a small scale, it’s [Nova Scotia] a farming lab, an incubator province where new farmers can go to make a go of it,” -Sarah Elton, Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens‒ How Canadians are changing the Way We Eat
The work below is the journalistic component of my master’s project at UBC Graduate School of Journalism.
Young farmers hope to be the future of food in Canada. We hear a lot about how many of these farmers are focusing on the environmental impacts of their work, along with trying to make a living. Yet, what about the social side of things?
Social sustainability is the least established pillar within the concept of sustainability, as I found out within my research. Yet, scholars focus on social sustainability as relating to ideas of human development, community development and fairness.
I set out to capture the ways in which young, environmentally-focused farmers in Nova Scotia are thinking through these social elements.
Owen Bridge’s passion for seeds started at age 11.
Owen’s family wanted to do the homesteading thing, but that didn’t seem possible with the price of land in BC.
So they moved east to Middleton, Nova Scotia, in 2006.
And Owen started Annapolis Seeds in 2008.
He’s now 20-years-old and going into his fourth season in business. His seeds are popping up locally, and in different spots around the world.
Happenstance led Sarah and Joey Pittoello to Alan Stewart of Stewart’s Organic Farm in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, from Kingston, Ontario.
Sarah’s originally from Ottawa. Joey’s from Amherst, Nova Scotia. Sarah wanted to do a master’s degree in counseling and Joey wanted to learn organic orcharding.
They’re now 31-years-old. Sarah finished her degree and teaches yoga. Joey’s the Director of Coffee at JustUs! Coffee Roasters Co-op.
They bought Alan’s mom’s home, which is just across the highway. This will be their fourth season on Stewart’s Organic Farm, and their first season growing greens for salad mix on their own land.
They’ve also started a family- Sarah gave birth to a baby girl in December.
A rich life
Shannon Jones and Bryan Dyck met three years ago. They started dating two years ago. And they moved to Nova Scotia from Ontario last year to start Broadfork Farm and build their farming lives together.
Shannon, 30, studied holistic nutrition, but switched paths… slightly.
“I thought the best way of being a nutritionist was to be a farmer,” says Shannon, who went on to work on farms in the United States, Latin America and Canada.
A few years ago she worked on Windhorse Farm, where the couple started Broadfork Farm before moving onto their own land.
Bryan, 27, started out studying urban planning in university, but left for the farm.
Shannon on pricing carrots at $3 a bunch:“To somebody they might think, ‘This must be a very amazing product and it’s worth it.’ And to somebody else they might think, ‘Oh, I need carrots, it’s on my shopping list. I don’t really think about the health benefits, or the ecological benefits or the social benefits. All I think about really is that it’s on my list for this recipe in Bon Appetite Magazine and I want to make that to impress my friends or something.’”
Shannon on fair trade in Canada:“We actually had some students that came here and they were talking about how they all studied a different tropical food while they were studying fair trade. And so then we talked to them about that fair trade also actually applies to this area. And I was talking about how when I was working as a nutritionist the cost for my services was $100 per hour. And the cost for my services here is a lot less. And so, but I don’t think it’s less value at all. I think that what I do now is higher value.”
Bryan, on moving into their new home in River Hebert, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, and overcoming the barriers of being a new person in a tight knit community: “…Getting to know enough people and getting them to know you as someone they can trust and depend on, I think that’s something really important for us to establish. In terms of having I guess a home based community… we want to support other people that are kind of on the same path that we’re on to either inspire them or encourage them in any way that we can to, to build that capacity to produce more farmers.”
At age 30, Lance Bishop followed his passion: he started his own cow herd. It was right after the mad cow crisis, and Lance knew if he was going to make a living he couldn’t depend on the commodity market.
He decided he’d raise the animals in a humane and natural way.
Bishop is now 37-years-old, has two young kids and owns Wild Mountain Farm, which focuses on grass-fed and free-range animals.
He says society is used to a cheap food system, which is a challenge. Yet, we’re at a time where people are starting to see the value of buying local because of the idea of the end of cheap oil, Bishop says.
Love, food and music
Jody Nelson, 35, grew up on a farm in Alberta.
Keith Mullins, 34, grew up making music in Cape Breton.
They’re now raising their two little boys on their farm, running a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) and selling at the market.
And there’s lots of music.
Jody on farm location and community:
“Coldsteam is not near the town. We’re quite cut off that we don’t feel like we’re really surrounded by community in a sense. So that’s really been a huge motivator in getting apprentices and volunteers out here, is trying to create that community. Which is challenging, but it’s been really fabulous. We’ve just had so many great people out here.”
Thank you to everyone who shared their stories with me.
Special thanks to Kathryn Gretsinger and Kregg Hetherington, who supervised my thesis project.