From: Jessica Smith – Saltwire

SYDNEY — When farmer David Mombourquette attends meeting of the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia, he’s the youngest person there by at least 15 years.

The Christmas tree farmer—who co-owns Green Hills Farm in Albert Bridge, Cape Breton alongside his wife, Jenna—is 35 years old. He’s concerned about the apparent rising age of his fellow farmers.

“I’m one of the youngest, if not the youngest, that I run into in meetings for the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia,” said David. “It falls back to the younger generation not being educated [about agriculture], not realizing that this is actually an industry … that you can work at.”

Data from the Department of Agriculture confirms David’s fears. The average age of farmers in Nova Scotia increases from 48.3 in 1991 to 56.5 in 2016. The 2021 census hasn’t been released, so 2016 is the most recent data available.

The data tell a tale of an aging population of farmers in the province, and dwindling numbers of younger people joining the industry.

David said he believes part of the reason for the decline is that many farms are passed down through generations, which encourages those with familial links to agriculture to pursue the trade.

“I believe it falls down to a lot of farms [being] are handed down. … But I see that there’s not a lot of young people getting into it.”

Tim Marsh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture is also anxious about the numbers. “It is concerning, … our future does depend on more youthful operators coming in and taking over farms in the long term,” said Marsh.

Marsh said he thinks the lack of younger people entering farming could be related to cash flow viability of many farms today, combined with rising opportunities in fields other than agriculture. However, he said the federation is seeing some growth in numbers of those under age 35 compared to other places in Canada.

“I think the interest is there and I think some coordination with the education system definitely wouldn’t hurt. It would help things,” said Marsh. “I believe that there’s a lot of people out there that … want to know where their food comes from. And that is the big issue.”

David Mombourquette with his daughter, Rosa, at Green Hills Farm, which he co-owns with his wife. CONTRIBUTED WOMEN ENTERING AGRICULTURE

David said, however, that although his corner of agriculture still appears to be male-dominated, there is an uptick in women joining the industry.

“Most of the new farms that I see …, and this is just my opinion, like these small farms that are popping up are run by women, which is great to see.”

He and his wife Jenna share the responsibilities of running Green Hills Farm. She handles the marketing, financials, staffing, funding applications and payroll and runs the craft shop they operate on their property.

“She handles just as much farm work as I do. … Without working together with my wife, we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did.”

Jenna said she and David have a “divide and conquer” approach to running the farm, which leaves them both to focus on the things they’re best at.

The couple has a two-year-old daughter and a son on the way, sae.

“And in our minds either of them could be more than capable of taking over this family operation from us someday.”

She said traditional attitudes about who should do farm work still persist in some areas, however.

“Not surprisingly, when buying some farm gear for our daughter this year I was asked how old my son was — [the] assumption [being] of course that it’s a male dominated industry,” said Jenna.

David said he hopes there are many ways to get involved in the industry besides inheriting a farm. He said many farms are hiring labour, which is a great opportunity to find a mentor.

“The biggest issue for me, and I can probably speak for people within the Christmas tree industry, [is] that we have a problem finding labour. We have a problem finding people who want to do the actual work,” said David.

David said people interested in learning more should get in touch with their local farms, and register with the Federation of Agriculture.

“It’s great to see anybody doing it, right? Just more exposure [for the industry] is good. It doesn’t matter who’s [farming] as long as somebody is doing it.”