A federal program designed to assist farmers and grow interest in agricultural practices while supporting youth employment will see yet another year of funding.
It was announced last week that the Agricultural Youth Green Jobs Initiative (AYGJI) has started taking applications.
The program provides support to fund youth internships either on a farm or with organizations that are engaged in the agricultural or agri-food sector specifically in activities that are environmentally beneficial to agriculture.
And from the experience of a Ponoka area farmer Mark Stewart, the program has proven beneficial to his business and to the youth employed as a result.
Stewart and his wife Tina operate MSW Farms — an agricultural business with longhorn cattle and elk, plus grain and tourism, camping and event rentals — located northwest of Ponoka.
“We are a business that tries to do the right thing. We have lots of solar water stations and fencing to protect the Battle River and have worked with the Battle River Watershed Alliance with initiatives to help mitigate the effects on the river,” Stewart said.
“With that though are set-up and maintenance costs and we certainly wanted some help instead of me being tied up all day long. The stations aren’t maintenance free and longhorns tend to be clumsy, taking out hoses and knock stuff over.”
Being part of the program last year was especially beneficial with several windstorms that took out trees and fences on the farm.
“It cost quite a bit to deal with the 500 to 1,000 trees that took out a lot of fences that keep the cattle from getting near the river,” he said, noting it took a couple weeks to cut the trees and make repairs.
“We know it costs to ensure a better environment, so we certainly appreciate the program because it helps us as we always want to do the right thing.”
One young person employed at MSW via the program said he had a great summer and Stewart hopes that experience will help teach the new generation.
“The hope is what we taught will be passed on to friends and others, not simply about grain and cattle, but to learn an attitude of community by doing things properly and having people support you because of what you do,” Stewart stated.
“Unfortunately, young people in agriculture stay in the mainstream that is dictated by the big corporations that pay a lot and don’t necessarily want farmers to do the right thing. My hope through this program is to help mentor young people that agriculture can be environmentally sensitive and sustainable.
The Agricultural Green Jobs Initiative, started in 2016, has created 392 new jobs with a total investment of $5.2 million. The initiative is part of the federal government’s goal to create well-paying jobs while supporting youths making the transition into the workforce.