Young Island farmers join forces for better future

The Manitoulin Youth Agriculture Association has now been formed on Manitoulin Island. Taking part in the first organizing meeting of the group was, left to right in photo, Alex Martin, Cameron Runnalls, Nick Martin, Dylan Tustian, Kyle Burt, Andrew Vokes, Dave Hillyard and Jordan Miller.

MANITOULIN—Concerns about the future of the family farm and the barriers facing young farmers seeking a career in agriculture abound, but a group of young farmers on Manitoulin Island are bucking those concerns by banding together as the Manitoulin Youth Agriculture Association (MYFA) to explore their shared interest in farming.

“Down south 4H Clubs are huge, but they seem a bit limited here on the Island,” said organizer and inaugural president Andrew Vokes, “and the 4H age group is from 11 to 21.” The new Island group aims for an older age in the 16-40 range.

So far the response has been great, he noted. “We got around eight for the first meeting and there were about 15 who expressed an interest but couldn’t make it out for the first meeting. We are still in the fledgling stage.”

Mr. Vokes has just graduated from his post-secondary education at Guelph University’s Ridgetown campus in Chatham. Like many youth aiming for a career in agriculture, he recognized the importance of getting a solid base. “There is lots of science involved in agriculture,” he notes. “Especially in dairy, dairy is huge. There are people who go to school for seven years to get their dairy nutrition masters.”

In fact, the nucleus of the idea for the MYFA came about when Mr. Vokes was thinking about the many agricultural clubs and associations he encountered in university. “When I was in school, there were dairy clubs, crop and soil clubs, and they would go every other week to a dairy operation or a farm to do a tour. That’s one of the things we are looking at doing.”

Mr. Vokes notes that there are often many different approaches to dealing with things that come up on the farm. “Some people handle it one way, and someone else might do things differently,” he said. “There are always ways to increase efficiency and to cut operating costs.” Important considerations when operating the modern farm.

Currently, the group is meeting on Sunday nights at 7:30 pm. But being in the young family age range, different challenges come up. “A couple of guys couldn’t get out to that meeting because that is when they are putting their kids to bed, it’s something we (the younger single members of the group) didn’t think of,” said Ms. Vokes. “But it seems that Sundays do work for everybody else.” The group will be shooting to meet once a month, he said, but the question will have to be decided at a future meeting. “It’s something we didn’t discuss yet,” he laughed.

As for current plans, the group put a float in the Providence Bay Fair parade and are looking at a day trip to Bruce County to tour a large producer.

The membership fee has been set, for now, at $40 a year, but that may be reviewed downward as more members join. Mr. Vokes said the association is encouraging any youth on Manitoulin who are interested in becoming a member of the group to contact them. Those interested can call (705)-348-1415 or by email at manitoulinagclub@gmail.com for more information or to join.