Back a few months ago when the #tbayinseason folks came out to interview us for their website, we somehow landed on the topic of how we came to be farming in Thunder Bay. It had come up that while Brody was born in Thunder Bay, none of the four us were actually living in Thunder Bay when we decided to buy the farm here. She was curious as to why we picked Thunder Bay and then how we went about finding farmland. While there are many reasons why we chose to farm here, one of them was how welcoming the farming community was. I was reminded of this again when we joined the Thunder Bay Country Market. By the end of week one, pretty much every farmer had come up to introduce themselves and have a chat.
This welcoming attitude definitely makes a difference when you are a newcomer. In our case, we were new not just to Thunder Bay but to farming. My parents had not yet re-located to Thunder Bay, so it was Brody and I who were connecting with local farmers in the various communities we were considering moving to (we also looked at Dryden and Rainy River). One thing that stood out to me was how willing all of these very experienced and knowledgeable farmers were to speak with us. I’m sure we asked some pretty rudimentary questions that screamed “beginners!”, but they never once discounted or dismissed us due to our lack of experience. They made time for us and our questions – and still do!
I think this is partly because farmers recognize that their success is connected to the success of their fellow farmers. More people choosing farming is a good thing for the farming community. There are some obvious reasons, such as the reality that you have to have a certain number of farms using the abattoir for it to stay in business or that you need a certain number of farmers at a Farmer’s Market for it to be viable, for example, but also includes recognizing that a vibrant local food community in a city of over 100,000 is going to need many farms to sustain it. More people will choose local when there are more local options to choose from. Thunder Bay is such a great example of the truth of this.
I think another thing that makes the farmers we have met so welcoming is that they want to support others who also see the appeal of a career in farming and the lifestyle it entails. The reality is that we have fewer people choosing to be full-time farmers and there are fewer farms in Canada each year. There are obvious reasons for this that could be the subject of another blog but suffice to say that farming is not an easy business to make a go of. Then add the fact that it is a lifestyle on top of that. So, when new people like Brody and I choose farming with an idea of the “lifestyle” we are signing up for, I think farmers want to be supportive of that choice – after all, it is one that they made themselves!
And finally, another reason that stands out to me is that they know one cannot farm alone. They welcome us because they know we will need them! To give advice, definitely, but also to lend a hand, to loan things to, to connect us to others, to provide a service, to partner with, the list goes on. I don’t think it is possible to be 100% independent as a farm but really, why would you want to be? Part of the lifestyle is the community and we feel very lucky to have found such a welcoming farming community here in Thunder Bay. I look forward to the day when I get to be the one welcoming the next new farmer.