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Greenbelt training farm to focus on ethnic crops

The University of Guelph’s Centre for Land and Water Stewardship will set up a new training farm for young people and immigrants in the southern Ontario Greenbelt, focusing on ethnic crops such as okra, bitter melon, sweet potatoes and green chilies.

The charitable foundation Friends of the Greenbelt today announced a $400,000 grant to the centre to set up the farm, which will also test new ethnic crops and include a support program to help graduates own their own farms, the foundation said in a release.

The Greenbelt is a 1.8 million-acre buffer zone in southern Ontario, focusing on preservation of farmland, rural communities, watersheds and green space including forests and wetlands.

The program is based on a Guelph study — also funded last year by the foundation — that showed a strong interest in farming among young people and immigrant Chinese, South Asian, Pakistani, Korean, African and Hispanic communities. Observers noted that while many immigrants arrive with agricultural experience and/or education, they often settle in cities and wind up buying imported vegetables, spices and herbs that could be grown in the region.

However, the study also pointed to “major barriers” such as a lack of access to capital and credit, no access to farmland and “little connection to Ontario’s existing and aging agricultural community.”

The foundation cited an Environics poll it commissioned, showing a third of Ontarians have increased their consumption of ethnic or multicultural foods over the past five years, and 57 per cent prefer ethnic foods come from local farms.

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