by Christopher Kelly-Bisson

Snow is falling, the trees are bare, and what remains in the ground is frost burnt and wilted. Growers in Canada take this time to plan what they are going to do next season. This article will get you primed for next season by directing you to resources and opportunities for farmers, gardeners, and newbies alike.

Perhaps you’ve never had soil lodged under your fingernails but are desperate to learn how to grow your own food, because – you know – zombie apocalypse. You need to either get gardening in your backyard, or get a plot at a community garden. Fortunately, Just Food — Ottawa’s food sovereignty organization – has it covered. Just Food’s Community Garden Network has been working with the City of Ottawa to promote and grow community gardens throughout the city. For $5, they organize workshops for new gardeners in the spring. Canadian Organic Growers give farm tours and are always looking for volunteers. COG’s Growing Up Organic program is a great source for workshops and events that teach young people how to garden.

For those who are more experienced with gardening and want to up their game there are a number of community groups and organizations from which to learn advanced skills. Stop by Seedy Saturday at the Ron Kolbus Centre every year in March. There are workshops on specialty topics (seed saving, permaculture, biodynamic, etc.) and community groups present and looking for new members.

Consider getting involved with Sustainable Living Ottawa West, Sustainable Living Ottawa East, Transition Ottawa, USC Canada, or Hidden Harvest. The Community Garden Network and Just Food Farm hold a lot of different workshops on more advanced subjects as well. Also consider checking out the volunteer section of Volunteering is by far the best way to learn better gardening techniques.

If you have become a garden pro, can’t think about anything else, and are tolerant of being dirt-poor (pun intended) and overworked, then it looks like you are ready to be a farmer! Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need to go to ag-school or a horticulture program to get into the industry. The best way to learn is to simply farm with successful farmers. It is best to approach farming small, slow, and with an exit strategy. I recommend browsing, and for successful examples on existing farms. A lot of organic operations will pay, feed, and shelter you to work on their farm. If you don’t mind working for free, check out World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

Once you are ready to start your own operation, look for a farm incubator program. Just Food has a test-cropper program that rents land, equipment, and provides workshops to beginner farmers for three years. If you are looking for a more arms-length experience with farming, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms provide opportunities for members to work whenever they like. Organizations like the Ottawa Food Bank and Operation Come Home have farm programs they always need volunteers with. No farmer will ever turn away free labour if all you are looking for is some experience. It goes without saying that there is no better way to learn farming than by getting your hands dirty with the right set of guides.

This column first appeared in the Leveller, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Nov/Dec 2014).