A partnership between the Loving Spoonful, the City of Kingston, Corrections Canada and St. Lawrence College revealed plans for a Farmer Training Program on Friday.

The training program, which Loving Spoonful has been running since July 4 but was only formally announced Friday, is a six month training program that involves a hybrid of online, in class, and most importantly on the land training.

While the program provides hands-on training to community members, particularly populations that typically face barriers to entering the agricultural industry, it also takes a step towards addressing what could soon be a big problem in Canada.

Loving Spoonful Food Systems Manager Ayla Fenton said that the average age of farmers is currently 59, and a study showed that roughly 75% of those farmers are preparing to retire and sell their land within the next decade.

Fenton says the country needs to quickly prepare to bring young farmers into the fold.

“It’s urgent if we want to be continuing to produce food in Canada and in the Kingston area that we need to be training the next generation of food producers,” Fenton said.

The Kingston & Area Community Training Farm is located roughly at the corner of Days Road and Front Road, finding itself on land donated by Correctional Services Canada.

Participants in the program visit the location for a three hour skills training session every week while completing 5-6 hours of online curriculum on their own time weekly.

At the beginning of November through December, participants will shift to in classroom learning provided by St. Lawrence College under a curriculum which Loving Spoonful is helping to design.

Fenton says training is being carefully designed to ensure that learning participants are making the most out of their time and learning skills directly applicable to running a farm.

“We want to make sure that those skills are actually relevant for people and in demand skills for the employers,” Fenton said.

“We’re going to focus on things like basic carpentry, small engine maintenance and things like that.”

Students will learn these skills in one of St. Lawrence’s mobile training units, and in addition will take part in the school’s new micro-credential program in Mental Health and Wellness for Farmers.

Fenton says while there are agricultural programs at post-secondary institutions, for hands-on jobs like farming there really is no substitute for experiencing the work first hand.

She says she hopes this can open the door for a shift towards practical, hands-on education since for many skill sets including farming, classroom learning just doesn’t make sense.

“There are agricultural programs at universities and colleges but those are pretty consistently rated as the least important way of learning how to farm,” Fenton said.

“Almost all people have learned to farm from working on farms and having opportunities like this… growing vegetables or any kind of farming is really such a tactile thing, it’s not really possible to learn through books.”

The city received funding from the Provincial Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, and Rural Economic & Community Development Manager Tracey Snow said the goal is to continue to grow the program on a yearly basis.

In a release, Snow says implementing this program will have a positive impact on the Kingston area for years to come.

“We are proud to help realize a project that will benefit our community and its residents for generations,” Snow said.

At the conclusion of the program, Loving Spoonful will help to find participants work placements on local farms, of which Fenton said there is no shortage of interest.

In addition, this program will also provide trainees with knowledge on how to begin their own farm, and partners are hopeful to explore incubator farms long term where participants would get a small plot of land with shared infrastructure and resources in order to start their own farming business.

The program is targeting populations who have barriers to entering the agricultural business, including women and youth, newcomers to Canada, those with a criminal history, and people with addictions and mental health issues.

Fenton said virtually all applicants were accepted to the current program, with 28 of 30 spots filled by people meeting one or more of those categories.

The Training Farm is receiving roughly $225,000 for its six month pilot program.