Willow Denis, originally from Prince George, British Columbia, landed in Peterborough 3 years ago. She is entering into her 2nd year in the Masters of Arts in Sustainability Studies at Trent University.
Willow is also a veterinary technician passionate about growing and eating fresh, delicious food.
Oh yeah – and she REALLY wants to be a farmer!
Did you know that the average age of an Ontario farmer is 55 years old – and only 8.5% of farmers have succession plans?
Unfortunately, due to increasing urban development, farming land is becoming more and more limited.
The land that IS available is so expensive ($$$!!!) that many aspiring farmers can’t even afford it!!
Traditional models of farming are outdated and are adding to the decay of rural communities and are causing food insecurity. It is time for a new way to farm!
To address these concerns, Willow is proposing the creation of a Farm Incubator in Peterborough.
A Farm Incubator is a piece of arable land subdivided into smaller plots, generally ¼ up to 1 acre in size, that are leased to new farmers at below market value for a predetermined period of time.
The site would be a living laboratory, offering an excellent opportunity for the exploration and expression of the entrepreneurial spirit of aspiring agroecologists, while also promoting experiential education and focusing on the sustainability of our future food system.
In collaboration with Trent University and the broader community, the site would offer practical training of new farmers.
- allow new farmers to try out their agricultural ideas with reduced risk
- provide shared access to training, equipment and facilities
- facilitate entry into a small-scale, diversified local food system; and
- provide a safe space for mentorship, training, networking, and relationship building.
By creating a collaborative relationship with local alternative agricultural producers in our rich and diverse agricultural community, the incubator has the potential to both mitigate some of the barriers facing new entrants and foster a deeper connection between the community and the institution.
Through a series of qualitative semi-structured interviews and following a case study methodology, Willow will actively engage with:
- Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems students at Trent;
- Small to mid-scale sustainable farm operators in Peterborough County; and
- Staff and participants at existing farm incubators in Canada
Her research will help to determine the desire for, and feasibility of, a Farm Incubator in the Peterborough community.
Willow wants to make the case for the creation of the Farm Incubator, and once the research is complete, she hopes to have found a space and the support to bring the project to fruition and add to the support of new farmers in the Peterborough community.
Everybody eats and most of us depend on others to grow the food we need.
We need to think about who we want to be producing that food and through what methods. We all have a stake in the creation of a more just and sustainable food system and therefore we all have a responsibility to make choices that support that.
By creating space and support for new agroecologists, we are adding to the sustainability of our communities, supporting the food system and strengthening our relationship with the food we eat.
Here is what Willow has to say about her experience at Trent University:
“My experience at Trent has been highlighted by the wonderful faculty I have had a chance to work with, the connections I have made in the agricultural community through farm visits and other hands on opportunities, and the ability to take part in a variety of food related activities on campus. Thanks to funding from the student chapter of Oxfam on campus I have had the pleasure of growing a donation garden which supports community organizations while also engaging with students at Prince of Wales Elementary School through garden club. And through the undergraduate courses in sustainable agriculture that I took in my first year and half here I received a good background in alternative agricultural practices and I was inspired to embark on my MA in Sustainability Studies.”
Thank you so much for sharing your research with us, Willow!