Please note, the application process for the 2014 program is now closed. Applications for the 2015 growing season will open in Fall 2014. The links below will take you to the corresponding sections.
In 2013, Just Food established the Start-Up Farm Program to support new farmers in the Ottawa region. By offering access to land, shared infrastructure/equipment, and training, the program aims to enable more people in this region to start their own successful farm business. Program participants can access up to 3 years of on-site support at the Just Food Farm, at a subsidized rate building towards a cost-recovery basis.
The program also supports a broader cohort of new farmers in the region by offering training to any new producers at a fee, as well as access to broader farm supports (free listing on the Ottawa Buy Local/Grow Local Food Guide; a listing of farm internship/employment opportunities in the region; the Savour Ottawa program, an economic development initiative connecting local producers with local restaurants and retailers; and the Explorer course for those considering getting into farming).
The Start-Up Farm program offers a low-risk way for new farmers to test their business ideas and to develop additional skills, experience, markets and networks before committing to a larger, longer-term farm operation. The program offers an entry point for a diversity of new farmers, including those from a non-farm background, second careerists, new Canadians, and those with farm experience in other settings.
Just Food is grateful for seed funding received for the Start-Up Farm Program from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the City of Ottawa, and Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company.
- To enable more new farmers in the Ottawa region to start their own successful farm business;
- To reduce barriers to new farmers in accessing land, infrastructure and relevant training;
- To offer access to a diversity of new farmers;
- To demonstrate the economic, environmental and social viability of small-scale, organic food production in the Ottawa region;
- To demonstrate cooperative models for entrepreneurs to work to together;
- To work towards access in the NCC greenbelt and broader region to transfer farm start-ups to longer-term viable land tenure options;
- To demonstrate sustainable and innovative production techniques, infrastructure and land management options including soil rehabilitation, which can be replicated by local farmers;
- To document and share information with partners in Canada and elsewhere.
The program started in 2013 with 9 participants, or test-croppers, growing at the Just Food Farm. Each test-cropper manages their own farm project on a quarter-acre of land (see our About the Farms webpage for details on these farms). Upon successful completion of their first growing season, test-croppers who want to continue and expand their project into a farm business will be eligible to scale up to a half-acre plot in their second year, and a full acre in their third. New test-croppers will also be admitted into the program each year to start with a quarter-acre.
Test-croppers who complete their first growing season may decide not to continue growing at the Just Food Farm the following year, for a variety of reasons. This is also considered a successful outcome of the program, as participants can make informed decisions about a farming career without having taken on major risks. Throughout the program, test-croppers will learn about and have access to a range of other opportunities to participate in farming and local food systems.
Details for Year One Participants
Up to ten new test-croppers will be admitted into the program for 2014. A test-cropper is someone who is interested in starting a farm business, and wishes to access land, shared infrastructure and training to assist them in testing their business ideas. Each test-cropper will be able to access the following in their first year of the program:
- A quarter-acre of land at the Just Food Farm, which has been planted in cover crop in 2013. All plots will be prepared for planting by Just Food, and participants will be able to access their plot as soon as weather permits in the spring (to be determined by the Farm Manager);
- Electric fencing and a water source for your plot. Test-croppers will be responsible for building and maintaining irrigation within their plot, with bulk drip tape available for purchase on-site. Water on the farm comes from a municipal connection. Each plot will be metered and test-croppers will be charged for their water use at the municipal rate;
- Access to communal infrastructure and equipment including barn storage, a wash station, cold storage, greenhouse space, and walk-behind rototillers;
- Participation in a series of training workshops designed for new farmers – see Training Schedule for details;
- Participation in several group learning sessions throughout the season, where all test-croppers meet together with program staff for updates, exchange of knowledge and results, and collaboration;
- Access to Just Food’s resource library and indoor workspace, as well as an extensive listing of online resources;
- General liability coverage under Just Food’s insurance plan (for Year One test-croppers only – those continuing in the program will need to obtain their own insurance coverage starting in Year Two);
- Organic certification for their project – the certification process is led by Just Food, and all producers on site are required to participate. Specific training is provided.
Suitable farm projects at the Just Food Farm could include mixed vegetables, flowers, grains, herbs, other specialty plant crops, or bees. Due to the nature of the program, including requirements for crop/plot rotation, test-croppers will not be able to farm on the same plot of land each year. As such, and given that it is a maximum 3-year program, there are minimal options for perennial production. The Just Food Farm site may be able to accommodate small poultry or livestock projects in the future.
While assistance is given throughout the program, test-croppers are responsible for planning and managing their own farm projects, including planning, sourcing inputs (seeds, mulch, etc.), planting and tending crops, harvesting, distribution, marketing and sales. By participating in training and group learning sessions, test-croppers can seek support, learn from others and access additional resources for their projects.
If a test-cropper has or gains access to other suitable land during their participation in the program, they are encouraged to transition to their own land as early as possible. These participants can still access training and other supports through Just Food. Similarly, existing farm businesses are ineligible for the on-site program, but can access training and other supports.
The Just Food Farm Site
The Just Food Farm is located on a National Capital Commission (NCC) property in the Ottawa Greenbelt at 2389 Pepin Court. Formerly an NCC nursery, Just Food is developing a long-term land use plan to manage agricultural and demonstration/education uses on the site. In addition to the Start-Up Farm Program, Just Food hosts other partnership programs that are farming on-site, including the Farmworks program with Operation Come Home, and the Karen Community Farm with KLEO (Karen Learning and Education Opportunities). Partnerships are also in the works with the Ottawa Food Bank, Permaculture Ottawa, and a Children’s Garden Program.
See the map for a site plan. (Note that land to be cultivated in Years 1, 2 and 3 is not referring specifically to the Start-Up Farm program, but to broader use by many partners.)
The Just Food Farm is accessible by public transit (OC Transpo bus routes 94 and 128).
The Just Food Farm is in the process of obtaining organic certification, which means that all test-croppers on site must adhere to Canada’s organic production standards. This includes purchasing or saving organic seed and inputs; avoiding chemical fertilizers or pesticides; implementing soil fertility practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation and compost (in Years 2 and 3); and detailed record-keeping to prove that organic standards have been met. All test-croppers will participate in training on organic production and certification at the start of the season, to ensure that they are prepared to comply with organic standards, and are required to participate in an organic inspection once during the growing season. Test-croppers who meet all the certification requirements can be certified organic during their second season on-site.
A series of structured training courses are designed to support new farmers in their transition to a successful business. Courses will be concentrated in winter and early spring before the growing season begins, to allow test-croppers to integrate their learning into their operations. These courses will be supplemented with additional information throughout the season. Courses are presented by local farmers and Just Food staff, and reflect regional conditions and opportunities.
Test-croppers are expected to attend all training courses and group learning sessions. If a test-cropper is not able to attend a course or group session, they must discuss it with the program manager in advance. All courses will be held on evenings or weekends. Specific course dates will be confirmed upon acceptance into the program.
Most of these courses are also accessible to other new farmers at a fee. If you are not applying for the on-site program at this time but would like to receive updates on available courses, please sign up for the Just Food newsletter.
Proposed Course Schedule (exact dates and locations TBC this fall):
Thursday, November 28, 6-9 PM: Orientation session for test-croppers accepted into the program
January: Organic certification and record-keeping
February: Crop planning and production
February: Understanding Soils
March: Marketing, pricing and sales
March: Integrated Pest Management
April: Farm safety and equipment use
May: Post-harvest handling
September: Business Planning course (for Year One test-croppers interested in continuing into Year Two of the program.)
Group Learning Sessions
In addition to the formal training, group learning sessions will be held once a month for all test-croppers from May through September. These sessions will allow test-croppers to share their experience and results to date, identify common challenges and opportunities for collaboration, and raise questions for discussion or future learning, with additional resources brought forward to deal with these questions. These sessions will be facilitated by the program managers, with agendas reflecting emerging needs and interests of the test-croppers over the season. Dates and times will be set at the beginning of the season, in consultation with the group.
Email communication, including a listserve, will be used heavily throughout the program to share updates and coordinate meetings.
The fees for the on-site program are currently set at $1600 for Year One test-croppers. Program fees cover everything described in the Program Details section above. Fees do not include farm inputs (seeds, particular soil amendments, greenhouse supplies etc), irrigation equipment used on your plot, water usage on your plot, personal tools, marketing and distribution costs, or office expenses to run your project. Test-croppers are expected to identify their own operational expenses and to manage and finance their farm budgets.
Fees for test-croppers continuing into Years Two and Three will be determined based on operating costs and specific business needs. These fees will be established in the fall of each year for the following growing season.
The Cliff Gazee Bursary
This bursary was created in appreciation to Cliff Gazee for years and years (and years!) of dedicated leadership in the cause of justice and equity in our community, including serving as the past Chair of Just Food. The funds for our first bursary were generously donated by Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company.
The Cliff Gazee Bursary will be available each year for one to two test-croppers who require financial assistance to participate in the Start-Up Farm Program. The bursary is meant to provide greater access to the program from a wider diversity of participants.
Small loans are available to test-croppers through a partnership between Just Food and the Ottawa Community Loan Fund, to help cover start-up costs at the beginning of your growing season. Loans must be repaid at the end of the growing season. Upon acceptance into the program, interested test-croppers can meet with an OCLF representative. If a loan is right for them, applications are submitted directly through OCLF.
Please note, the application process for the 2014 program is now closed. Applications for the 2015 growing season will open in Fall 2014.
Please submit your completed Application Form to Leela Ramachandran at email@example.com, or by mail to Just Food, 2389 Pepin Court, Ottawa K1B 4Z3 (attn. Leela Ramachandran).
Please note: you cannot save an unfinished online application. You must have all your information ready to submit at once. If you prefer to complete a paper copy of the form, please contact Leela at the email address above for a Word version of the document which you can submit by email or mail.
All applications must be received by Thursday, October 31st, 2013 at 4 PM. Applications received after the due date will be put on file, and will only be reviewed if there are vacancies after the first round of applicants.
If you are applying, please keep some time free between November 13th through 15th for an in-person interview. All applicants will be notified by email on November 12th if they have been selected onto the short-list or not. Shortlisted candidates will be asked to select an interview time, which is a required part of the application process.
All short-listed applicants will be notified of the Selection Committee’s final decision by November 22nd. A mandatory orientation session for all test-croppers will be held on Thursday, November 28th from 6 to 9 PM. Signed contracts and fee deposits are due in December 2013 to reserve your place in the program.
If the Selection Committee deems that some applicants are not ready for the Start-Up Program in 2014, Just Food will provide feedback to applicants and suggest other opportunities for training and support that can help prepare them to join the program in the future.
Applicants will be evaluated based on the following criteria:
- Relevant experience and skills
- Crop production experience - Applicants must have on-farm experience, or equivalent, with the crops they wish to produce
- Business experience not required but is an asset
- Relevant courses/conferences/training (in agriculture or business)
- Clarity of your farm project plan and ideas
- What will be grown? How much? Why the selected product(s)?
- How will product be sold, distributed, marketed?
- Research or evidence to support your marketing plan is an asset
- Specific markets/customers identified or contacted is an asset
- Available time and labour to commit to the farm project
- Minimum of 20 hours/week per farm team strongly recommended, but hours could be much higher
- Additional labour as back-up besides the test-cropper is an asset
- Regular site visits are essential (eg. working on your plot several times per week)
- Financial support/stability to mitigate risk while starting a farm project
- Test-croppers should not expect farm project to replace any income in Year One
- Identify project costs and plan to manage them
- Experience working and communicating in a team environment
- Preference will be given to qualified Ontario-based candidates
An Open House on the Start-Up Farm Program will be held Wednesday, September 18 from 6:30 to 8 PM at the Just Food Farm, 2389 Pepin Court. A farm tour will be followed by an information session. Program staff and current test-croppers will be on hand to answer your questions. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the program and whether it is right for you. All are welcome and pre-registration is required.
For those who wish to further explore the potential of starting a farm business before entering the Start-Up Farm Program, Just Food is also offering a course this fall called Exploring the Small Farm Dream: Is Starting an Agricultural Business Right For You? Held over three dates in September/October, this course introduces participants to the realities and opportunities of farming in the Ottawa region, and guides them through a decision-making process to determine if starting their own farm operation is a path they really want to pursue. Interested participants can attend the Explorer course this fall and still apply for the Start-Up Farm Program for 2014. For more information on the Explorer course, please see our Farmer Training page.
To register for the Open House or the Explorer course, or for more information, please contact Leela Ramachandran at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-699-6850 ext. 15.
If you have questions about your own unique experience or situation, and how Just Food can best support you, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible and/or register for the Open House.