ACORN workshop

The student centre was home to a different variety of students this week, as newcomers to organic farming attended the “Planning for Success” business skills seminar.

This two-day event took place on Monday and Tuesday, and was organized by the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN), one of the most influential groups in the Maritimes in the field of sustainable agriculture. The workshop focused on enhancing the ability of young and inexperienced growers to develop and utilize business plans for their farms.

Thirty farmers from Atlantic Canada were in attendance, all with less than five years of experience. This workshop was part of a larger ACORN initiative to train new farmers. The average age in the sector is fifty-five.

David Alexander, the seminar’s instructor, explained how traditional knowledge about running a farm is rare in modern times.

“Now, we’ve got this group of individuals with passion, drive, ambition, and skills, but (not growing up on a farm), they lack the entrepreneurial skills to do the job,” he said.

Coming from a background in teaching, Alexander has been working at the Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre in Ontario for four years, and is the facilitator of their award-winning ‘Farmers Growing Farmers’ initiative. He has helped new growers complete business plans, leading to the success of about ninety per cent of his graduates. “There’s a lot of interest in Southern Ontario,” he noted, “But it’s good to see other parts of the country. There’s a lot of interest from groups in this area.”

ACORN is one such group—a non-profit organization based out of Sackville. From their office on Main Street, they work to connect the agricultural community, from producers to consumers, by networking and education. ACORN’s ‘Grow a Farmer’ initiative, coordinated by Lucia Stephen, is designed to offer apprenticeships and training in organic agriculture. This week’s workshop was part of that very initiative.

Stephen stressed the importance of developing business sense in new farmers. As she stated in an earlier press release, “It is essential that they have access to resources to support their start-up, and learning how to develop a well-designed business plan is a great tool.”

The focus on a ‘new generation’ of farmers opens many opportunities for young people, including students, and this seminar is part of an ongoing cooperation between the university and Stephen’s organization. “ACORN works with Mt. Allison on many of our events, they’ve been very supportive,” she said.

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