A matchmaking service like no other is growing in the Okanagan. An organization called ‘Young Agrarians’ is connecting farmers with underutilized farmland.
It’s called the B.C. Land Matching Program and it is funded by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Okanagan land matcher Tessa Wetherill said the program aims to address the lack of affordable agricultural land by connecting young farmers with local landowners through a lease agreement.
“One of the biggest barriers for farmers getting started is the prohibitively high cost of land,” she said on Monday. “We’re wanting to create long term, secure lease agreements so that these farmers have a chance to create stable businesses.”
The organization helps facilitate negotiations and terms of the leasing arrangement between landowners and land leasers with the support of a lawyer.
The organization is building a centralized database of available land in the Central and North Okanagan.
It’s a database that Kelowna farmer Jordan Marr said is a resourceful tool.
He farms five acres of leased land and supplies restaurants with locally-grown, certified organic vegetables.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get going in business without leasing,” he said. “It has to be a way more efficient process than a single farmer, like me, trying to go out and find a good opportunity.”
Marr, 37, is a part of the next generation of farmers.
In 2016, the average farmer was 55 years of age, while farmers under the age of 35 represented just 9.1 per cent of total farmers, according to Statistics Canada.
The study also found that 92 per cent of Canadian farmers do not have a written succession plan to transfer ownership of their farms to a successor after the operator retires.
Wetherill said their work is crucial to keeping small-scale farm operations viable for future generations.
“We have lots and lots of people who are interested in buying local. There is more and more interest in organic products. The farmers markets are growing and it’s absolutely possible to create a great life for yourself as a farmer,” she said.
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