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TRCA-FarmStart McVean New Farmers Project

The project is the first of its kind in Canada, leading the way towards sustainable, local agriculture that serves the needs of growing urban and peri-urban communities and protects the local greenspace and ecosystems.

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Background

The McVean New Farmers project is a partnership between Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) and FarmStart. The New Farmers project is based on the historic McVean property located within the Claireville Conservation Area, in the City of Brampton which is owned by TRCA. The project is the first of its kind in Canada, leading the way towards sustainable, local agriculture that serves the needs of growing urban and peri-urban communities and protects the local greenspace and ecosystems. By encouraging new farmers and products and promoting local food production and community engagement, this farm project will allow community members to access and connect to the source of their food: to know and value the land on which is it grown and those who have grown it.

Sustainable Near-Urban Agriculture

Toronto and Region Conservation recognizes that sustainable near-urban agriculture supports not only healthy rivers and regional biodiversity through soil regeneration, ecological restoration, and ecosystem integrity, but it is also a critical component of sustainable communities
In 2008, fifteen hectares (thirty-seven acres) were leased to FarmStart on a renewable lease to support and encourage a new generation of farmers to develop locally based, ecologically sustainable and economically viable agricultural enterprises. This was the first time TRCA entered into a multi-year lease agreement, to promote good stewardship practices on the land and infrastructure investments. Until the introduction of TRCA's new Sustainable Near-Urban Agriculture Policy (2008), TRCA has always had annual leases. Toronto and Region Conservation is also working with FarmStart to provide infrastructure support, such as rain water collection harvesting systems, fencing, irrigation, storage facilities, and market buildings. In addition, TRCA is supporting the project through stewardship and educational programming beginning in year three of the lease.


FarmStart

FarmStart is a not for profit organization, established in 2005 to support and encourage a new generation of farmers to develop locally based, ecologically sound and economically viable agricultural enterprises.

New Farms Incubator Model

The McVean New Farmers project follows New Farms Incubator model based on the successful Intervale Farms Program near Burlington, Vermont and FarmStart's first incubator farm project at the Ignatius Farm in Guelph. The program is aimed at anyone who is ready to start a viable, locally oriented, ecological farm. This could include: those from non-farm backgrounds who have developed relevant knowledge and practical agriculture experience; those from conventional farms who wish to farm ecologically and do not have access to land and/or capital; new immigrants with agricultural experience; and those with innovative and ecological farm related enterprise ideas.

  • Land
  • Facilities and Equipment
  • Cooperative Marketing
  • Horticultural Inputs
  • Mentorship and Training


Site

The McVean farm is situated in the middle of a growing and diverse peri-urban neighbourhood. There are many attributes to the McVean property that lend this parcel of land considerable cultural heritage value. These include the barn, surrounding vegetation, archaeological potential, cultural landscapes and remains of buildings that once stood on the site, in addition to the historical associations with the McVean family. Originally a wheat farm, the McVean property is associated with a very prominent early settler, Alexander McVean and his family, and is the oldest farm in Brampton dating back 150 years. Significant features include a very rare double English Wheat Barn built by the McVean family in the 1840s. Another feature is a grist and saw mill, one of the first in this area, built by Alexander McVean on a branch of the Humber which ran through his property.

McVean's Heritage Designation

In the summer of 2005, the McVean property was designated as a "Category A" heritage resource by the City of Brampton. A heritage designation recognizes the importance of a property to the local community; protects the property's cultural heritage value; encourages good stewardship and conservation; and promotes knowledge and understanding about the property. It also helps to guide future changes to the property so that heritage attributes of the property can be maintained.


Current Activities

Now in its first year of production, the facility accommodates four farm enterprises, several ?test croppers' and a test plot of world crops. The 2008 season has seen a total of five acres being farmed and producing a wide variety of crops including garlic, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, beets, rutabagas, celery, zucchini, strawberries, herbs. As well, some ?world' crops were grown, including okra, callaloo, chiles, bitter gourd and hot peppers.
It was overall a successful season, with farmers reporting good yields. Other contributing factors to success were the support and learning gained from the interaction between farmers, as well as the access to resources provided by FarmStart and TRCA.

  • Who are the new farmer participants
  • Funding
  • Partnerships
  • Testimonials


Future Direction

FarmStart hopes to build on the success of the 2008 season at the McVean Farm in various ways:

  • Increasing the number of participants
  • Expanding production area
  • Increasing area for test crops
  • Establishing infrastructure
  • Implementing soil management through cover crops
  • Introducing farm gate sales
  • Development of a farm project business plan
  • Development of business plans for participants
  • Providing more opportunities for public engagement

 

 

Land:Parcels from a fraction of a half hectare to four hectares (one to ten acres) are available at the McVean Incubator Farm, where participants have access to land and infrastructure to help them start a farm. Soil tests have been conducted and organic amendments and cover crop rotation are used as needed to ensure soil fertility. The certification process has started. Full organic certification is anticipated for the 2009 season. Land is also available to community groups in Brampton that may wish to establish community garden programs.

Facilities and Equipment:Irrigation, equipment, storage and washing facilities are available to participants. Farmers can access these as needed and pay a rental fee for the usage. This helps farmers to develop and run their farm businesses without the often prohibitive upfront investment in land, infrastructure and equipment.

Cooperative Marketing:FarmStart supports cooperative marketing efforts by participants. A farm market building will be constructed when required by participant farmers to allow for direct sales of crops to the public. Assistance is available in conducting or accessing market research for specific crops and livestock. Participants are also encouraged to consider value added measures to enhance income from their crops.

Horticultural Inputs:FarmStart assists participants in sourcing planting materials and custom work as required by individual farm operations.

Mentorship and Training:Mentoring and training are an important part of FarmStart's programs. Business planning and management courses are conducted on a regular basis, and participants are referred to a wide range of training courses and mentorship opportunities offered by partner organizations such as the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, Farmers Growing Farmers, and others. The Farm Manager and Program Manager act as mentors as well as providing technical and practical support to participants on site as required.

double English Wheat Barn:Possessing a high degree of architectural integrity, it is quite unique in that very few were built and fewer still exist in their original form today. The McVean Barn was built specifically for the processing of wheat using 'winnowing', an ancient method of using the wind to separate the wheat kernel from the chaff. It provides evidence of one of the first European architectural techniques adapted to Upper Canada's farming operations. The barn remains on its original foundation.

Who are the new farmer participants:

  • Afri-Can Food Basket
  • The Cutting Veg
  • Matchbox Garden and Seed Co.

Funding:AddThis project is funded in part through contributions by:

  • Agricultural Management Institute (AMI)
  • Toronto and Region Conservation
  • Region of Peel
  • The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation
  • Laidlaw Foundation
  • Metcalf Foundation
  • Catherine Donnelly Foundation
  • Agri-Foods Canada
  • Agricultural Adaptation Council

Partnerships:

  • Centre for Land and Water Stewardship, University of Guelph
  • Ecological Farmers' Association of Ontario
  • Ontario Farmland Trust
  • FoodShare
  • Ignatius Jesuit Centre of Guelph
  • Community Economic Development for Immigrant Women, AJAX (CEDIW)

Testimonials:"We were very glad for the opportunity to use TRCA land this growing season. Organic food production relies strongly on a philosophy of stewardship and conservation, and we are happy to be working with organizations that share those principles. As our cities continue to grow, we believe that it is essential to preserve fertile farm land close to the urban centre and keep it in production growing healthy, nutritious food. We are happy to see that TRCA is taking the lead in supporting local, organic, sustainable food production in our community!"
Carolyn Bailey, Farmer
BeetStreet CSA

"Growing at the McVean site in 2008 was a pure pleasure. The soil was of great quality, we had an abundance of rain, all the farmers were super nice and professional, and I was very thankful to TRCA and FarmStart for providing the space."
Daniel Hoffmann, The Cutting Veg