Local farmer Mike Kozlowski didn’t know what to think when he answered the phone on Tuesday and found Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development on the other end.
Turns out Kozlowski, 28, was selected to be a member of a new council created by the department that will aim to encourage and support more young people interested in careers in agriculture.
“I’m honoured and thrilled,” said Kozlowski, who runs Steel Pony Farm, a Community Assisted Agriculture project near Fort Normandeau.
“I’m excited about farming, and not just being in the field but also the larger movement behind good, clean food and transparent farming methods.”
The council will be called the Next Generation Council, said Kozlowski, and will be responsible for brainstorming policies and programs that could then be used to support new farmers and others starting out in the agriculture industry.
Alberta Agriculture is remaining tight-lipped about the details of the new council.
A formal announcement will be released sometime next week, said department representatives.
But the facts speak for themselves. Young people are needed in agriculture.
The 2006 census found 47.1 per cent of farmers in Alberta were over the age of 55, up from 44.6 per cent in 2001.
Likewise, for every four people employed as farmers who are 55 or older, there is only one aged 15 to 34, said Alberta’s Aging Labour Force and Skills Shortages 2009 report, prepared by Alberta Employment and Immigration.
Most of the province’s farmers continue to farm after the age of 60 and nearly half the seniors in the Alberta workforce are farmers, according to Alberta Employment.
The council could be a positive way to spark some lasting change within the demographics of the industry, said Kozlowski.
According to Kozlowski, there are 13 or 14 others on the council board from established farmers to new ones like himself — Steel Pony is just beginning its second season — to food policy and food processing professionals. He was told their first meeting will be in June.
As for Kozlowski, he’s learning new things about farming every day, especially when it comes to soil health.
“Holy smokes, it’s actually really exciting when you think about how alive the soil is,” he said.
“There are 43 million living organisms in a single gram of soil.”
It’s these organisms they want to nourish and focus on at Steel Pony.
Kozlowski and the Steel Pony team — Kristen Carlson and Andy Gartner — plan on working on a composting program where their CSA members can drop off their compost for natural fertilization.
They also plan to spray raw milk to enrich soil nutrients as well as adding kelp meal.
Steel Pony will feature close to 50 kinds of produce this summer, including spinach-like corn salad and collard greens.
While last year they had 30 spots in their CSA program, they are aiming for 50 for 2012. And they’re selling out fairly quickly, said Kozlowski.