When the pandemic hit, the Hayes Farm in Fredericton wasn’t sure it would be able to open its fields to students this year.
But as restrictions lifted, the demand for its curriculum skyrocketed.
“It was just wild,” said Edee Klee, the co-chair of NB Community Harvest Gardens, the organization that runs the teaching farm.
Fears about food security, coupled with an abundance of free time, has led to an explosion in new farmers flocking to the city’s north side to learn.
“We’re getting a lot of interest from people,” said Klee. “They’re coming to us, they’re finding us, because of what’s changed. People are really getting that focus on getting their own food.”
The farm runs community gardens in addition to training students to manage land, cultivate crops and harvest food. The gardens have also seen demand spike, according to Klee.
“We always knew that there would be a need to train new farmers and train people to grow their own food,” said Klee. “This has been compelling us for the last 10 years.”
An open house last week brought more than 100 potential farmers to their fields. They were looking to learn to produce their own potatoes, beans, carrots, and squash, among other crops.
But like every other organization, the farm has had to change how it does things.
Instead of students working together in one large field, there are mini-fields for each farmer to cultivate. Each student has their own tools.
So far, it’s worked.
Students have already begun harvesting some of their crops. Each week the farm distributes boxes of vegetables across the city. Those have sold out for the year.
Klee said working the land has calmed those who were previously panicking about food security and the pandemic in general.
“There’s so much stress and unknown circumstances and the beauty of it is it’s grounding,” said Klee. “It sounds crazy but actually putting your hands in soil is a grounding mechanism.
“It’s calmed a lot of folks and I’ve had a lot of people say ‘If I didn’t have my garden, I don’t know what I would do.'”
Relying on New Brunswick
According to Klee, New Brunswickers import around 95 per cent of their food from outside the province. When borders shut down, many became aware of that dependency, something Klee points to for driving people back to working the land for themselves.
“I know that back in the 70’s apparently we produced 70 per cent of the food that we consumed,” said Klee.
But it’s not food concerns that have brought most people to the Hayes farm. It’s the Canada Emergency Response Benefit payments they’ve received during the pandemic.
The farm has never had a shortage of New Brunswickers looking to learn to farm their own food. But some haven’t been able to afford it.
“Being able to support yourself while you are going through that training period is insurmountable for some folks,” said Klee.