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Budding Trend: Young People on the Farm

Evidence mounts that young people are returning to farming in many parts of Canada and the U.S. Can it last? One father sure hopes so, especially at his sixth-generation family dairy.

By Richard Banks | Photos By Jamie Cole

Gavin MacDonald (left) and his father Donnie, tag-team their approximately 150-year-old dairy near New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

Gavin MacDonald (left) and his father Donnie, tag-team their approximately 150-year-old dairy near New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

When asked about the challenges he faces in the operation of his family’s dairy, an impish grin works its way across Gavin MacDonald’s youthful face. “Uh, challenges? Our Scottish history. They landed us in the most hilly area of Nova Scotia.”

His father, Donnie, sitting next to him, chuckles and, as if to rattle the 26-year-old’s cage a little more, asks him his favorite job on the farm.

“Picking rocks, which we have tons of here, along with clay soil,” Gavin quickly answers with a hint of sarcasm. “So, those are my two …”

“Your pet peeves,” Donnie interjects, as if he’s had this conversation before.

While the particulars may differ, similar discussions have transpired between generations of farm families for, well, generations. Whether it’s occasional grousing about early-morning milkings or weekends running a combine as friends visit the mall or go fishing and hunting, the essence of the conversation is much the same whether it’s on a dairy farm in Atlantic Canada or a row-crop operation on the Great Prairie.

An appreciation, even a passion, for the family business notwithstanding, life for a farm kid can be tough. Even harder on young parents who may want to attend their children’s sports and other school-related events. Given demands on their time, slimmer margins, price of land and a host of other obstacles, it’s little wonder young folks have for decades opted for nonfarm careers.

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