The Port Alberni Shelter Farm has received a second year of grant funding for its market gardener program.
The employment grant means successful applicants will have full tuition, books and supplies paid for over the course of the five-month program.
Last year was the first year for the market gardener program, Shelter Farm manager Guy Langlois said. There were 12 students signed up, eight of whom are now working in agriculture. Six students have started their own small gardens at Shelter Farm and are working co-operatively. The farm runs a table at a farmers’ market and share the space so growers have a chance to sell their produce.
The Shelter Farm also provides fresh produce to local restaurants. Last year a few members started a community agriculture box program for families, and they will offer it again this year. The farm will also take over Our Local Markets website from creator Susan Roth, which will allow people to choose what they want—similar to a customizable produce box, Langlois said.
The course includes a one-month internship provided at the end of instruction. “That allows (students) an opportunity to start their garden at the farm, setting it up for next year,” Langlois explained. “We offer land at the farm because it’s hard to access land. It costs money to buy land. We offer land for free. It reduces financial barriers for people to get into farming.”
The Shelter Farm is on Franklin River Road at a former potato farm. They are using 50 acres, but there is a total of 170 acres that can be farmed. A new greenhouse will be erected this spring so growers can start seedlings from a large donation from West Coast Seeds.
The long-term plan is to purchase the property and create a therapeutic community, which John Douglas and Wes Hewitt of the Port Alberni Shelter Society have been promoting.
Two other students from last year’s market gardener program have started their own farms. “They have their own property; they developed business plans for their farms and then marketing plans. It’s really cool to see their plans have actually developed and that they were able to implement them,” Langlois said.
The market gardener program is important to the Alberni Valley because there is so little agriculture happening in the region. There are approximately 11 hectares of land being used to grow fruits and vegetables here. “Every year it’s less and less,” he said.
“We’re trying to get more people into farming and engage younger people. You can make a good living at it. It’s worth it and it’s fun. If you like working outdoors and being your own boss, there’s nothing like it.”
Anyone interested in taking the Market Gardener Training Program can call Leanne Moore at North Island College at 250-724-8705 or Langlois at 250-720-5177 (or e-mail him at email@example.com). Deadline to apply is March 25 and the program starts March 30. Applicants will be vetted by Langlois.