The MFM final report is now available here.

In December 2006, members of the Organic Food

Council of Manitoba (OFCM) called a meeting to discuss farm mentorship in Manitoba.  About 30 individuals representing a diversity of groups came together to discuss local needs and new ideas for a farm mentorship program that would focus on organic, environmentally sustainable, and small scale farming for local markets.  That was the beginning of this Manitoba Farm Mentorship program, but the history actually begins twelve years ago and involves both OFCM and the Harvest Moon Society.

 

The Harvest Moon Society and the Organic Food Council of Manitoba both formed around the same time – in 1999/2000 – and around the same project – the Organic Farm Mentorship Program.  Coordinated by Charlene Rowland out of the Harvest Moon Learning Centre in Clearwater, in partnership with OFCM, the Organic Farm Mentorship Program sowed the seeds for organic and ecologically-sound farmer training in this province.

 

 

OFCM’s mission is to lead local and national communities towards sustainable organic stewardship of land, food and fibre while respecting nature, upholding social justice and protecting natural resources.

 

HMS’s vision is a world in which healthy land and communities are celebrated by all, leading to equitable food systems, a sense of place, and care for the environment now and in generations to come.

     

OFCM and HMS have always shared similar visions and values, and have long been sharing knowledge, successes, and many founding members.  It is fitting that these two organizations are partnering again to further farm mentorship and training in Manitoba.

 

Returning to December 2006, after the meeting, a steering committee formed and OFCM began to seek funding to move the project forward.  This resulted in a partnership with Heifer International Canada (Heifer), which provided $10,000 to OFCM to develop the Manitoba Farm Mentorship program in 2007-08.  A grant application was then submitted to Heifer for three years of funding to support the project, and approved in late 2008.

MFM’s vision is a just, productive and stable agricultural system in which everyone is supplied with affordable, exciting and nutritious food.  The program was designed to increase the number and diversity of smaller scale, organic and environmentally sensitive family farms in Manitoba; attract youth to farming; train new farmers to meet rising demand for local and organic foods in Manitoba; increase urban farming activities; and contribute to increasing demand and new markets for organic and local foods.  MFM was developed by successful farmers, for farmers, and provided opportunities to aspiring and experienced producers alike.  Through on-farm internships, peer-to-peer mentorship, workshops, courses, farm tours, online resources, and the encouragement of a supportive community, the program helped new and aspiring farmers access land, begin farming, introduce new production techniques, discover local markets, and connect with the agricultural network across the province.

Since 2009, MFM has connected 17 interns with on-farm mentorship experiences, held over 30 workshops, farm tours, and networking events, and offered the yearly Exploring Your Small Farm Dreamcourse.  In 2010, we responded to interns who required financial support while on their mentor farm with the New Farmer Challenge.  Over the years we have provided 26 bursaries and grants totaling more than $11,000.


 

We at MFM have watched as the enthusiasm and passion of aspiring, new, and transitioning farmers has burgeoned into a wave of momentum in Manitoba.  As a result, in 2010 and 2011 the program began to focus on encouraging government to recognize the unique needs of new and aspiring farmers.  MFM, along with like-minded organizations across Canada, participated actively in industry and public consultations around “Growing Forward II,” the next framework for agricultural programming in Canada.  The groundswell of interest in smaller scale, locally-oriented and organic and sustainable farming requires a different approach to agricultural programs and services than the status quo.  The MFM steering committee felt it was important to speak up for MFM participants and other farmers whose needs haven’t been met by existing programs.

Also in 2011, MFM and OFCM began contemplating new partnerships, and the Harvest Moon Society was a natural ally.  The society hosts the perennial Harvest Moon Festival every September – a gathering that brings together farmers and eaters, and celebrates connections between rural and urban people.  HMS also offers farming and sustainable living courses and workshops throughout the year with programs around permaculture design, forest gardening, pastured livestock enterprises, vermiculture and leadership skills in area schools.  Importantly, the society connects 15 farmers, four buying club organizers and over 500 consumers in an alternative, community-driven food distribution system - the Harvest Moon Local Foods Initiative.  Inherent in everything the society does, education and celebration are core tenets of the organization.  Farmer training and support has been offered formally and informally by the society since day one.

The society’s strengths include a solid foundation of successful farmer-volunteers, a diversity of skills on well-appointed steering committees, and a social enterprise model that sustains the organization.  The society was founded on the spirit of cooperation, community, camaraderie, and a keen interest in building a sustainable food system for future generations. 
The merging of MFM programming under the HMS banner is promising for aspiring, new, and transitioning farmers training in Manitoba. MFM brings the Exploring Your Small Farm Dream course and a variety of farm management and planning workshops, a network of farm mentors, organic expertise and resources, and experience coordinating programming in the Winnipeg area.  HMS offers the Permaculture Design Certificate and many excellent production skills workshops, along with a robust rural farming network and the well-established marketing opportunities available through the Local Foods Initiative.  MFM and HMS have already begun to plan new initiatives, such as connecting clusters of farmers in different parts of Manitoba to encourage regional food systems and a broader network for new, young, and transitioning farmers.

The Manitoba Farm Mentorship program has evolved.  The familiar ‘M.F.M’ has been put out to pasture, but the spirit of the program will come through in Harvest Moon Society events and programming.  Going forward, look to the Harvest Moon Society for farmer training courses and workshops.  Join the HMS Facebook page and get involved in the society’s activities.  As long as aspiring, new, and transitioning farmers continue to seek resources, training, and peers, the Harvest Moon Society and through it, Manitoba Farm Mentorship, will continue to provide support and community.


"Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land's inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows."

~Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food