Page 6 - RealDirtENG2020
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Indigenous agriculture
Indigenous people have an important connection to the land, and harvested plants and animals for traditional medicines and foods long before settlers arrived to what is now called Canada. In addition to the challenges that all farmers face, Indigenous farmers can encounter obstacles associated with colonization, such as regulatory systems including the Indian Act, as well as natural and geographic factors15.
The number of Indigenous farmers in Canada has been on the rise, increasing
by more than 50 per cent between 1996 and 201616. Several factors may have contributed to the increase including changes in self-reported identi cation over time. Almost 80 per cent of Indigenous farmers identify as Métis, with the largest numbers farming in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. A little over a quarter self-identi ed as First Nations, with most farming in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta.
• Many Métis farmers raise cattle, or are involved in specialty crops like hay, sugar beets, hemp, hops, herbs and spices.
• Indigenous farmers are more likely to be women, as compared with non- Indigenous farmers.
• First Nations people fostered the planting relationship known as the “Three Sisters”, where beans, corn and squash are planted side by side. The beans  x nitrogen to the soil; the corn stalks act as a trellis for beans; and the squash leaves provide ground cover that prevents weed growth and conserves moisture17.
The corporate farm question
Like many Canadian businesses, some farm families have opted to incorporate their businesses. This change means that they’ve chosen a business structure that can include both family members and paid employees—but it has nothing to do with how big or small a farm is, or how well animals or crops are cared for. According to the 2016 Census of Agriculture, 22.5 per cent of Canadian farms are incorporated as family corporations (only 2.7 per cent of incorporated farms are non-family corporations)18.
More than one way to farm: conventional and organic farming
6 The Real Dirt on Farming
Farmers choose to farm in a variety of ways following different types of production practices such as conventional (non-organic) or organic production.
Organic food is grown in ways that support the principles of organic agriculture: health, ecology, fairness, and care19 —many principles that also apply to conventional farmers.
Farmers producing organic food follow production rules around improved sustainability which can include a focus on crop rotation, improving soil health, natural pest control methods, humane livestock management practices, and traceability from
farm to fork—although it should be noted that many conventional farmers also follow these very same principles.
Some farmers grow both organic and conventional crops on their farms for different markets, but regardless of the type of farming, the key is sustainable production.
In Canada, demand for organic foods is on the rise. Canada’s market for organic food items is worth over $5 billion annually, increasing by 8.7 per cent every year20. About 7,300 Canadian farms and 1,700 food processors are certi ed as organic.
Getting into farming
Most Canadian farms are family businesses that are passed from one generation to the next. The cost of land in particular is high, making it dif cult for young people to get into farming if there’s no farm in the family to take over. That situation means that many have to get creative if they want to make their farming dream a reality.
Many new farmers start out by renting or buying small pieces of land, and getting help from friends, neighbours, or family, while
also working outside the farm. Many look to specialty products, direct-to-consumer sales, or niche markets that they can supply on a small scale to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Some farmers without a next generation to take over are building succession plans with young farmers that aren’t part of their family, and others work out creative agreements to give young farmers a start.
Beth Wilson

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