West Bolton farming group getting off the ground

The West Bolton Agricultural Group (WBAG) was born out of a fantastic idea. Create a partnership of West Bolton people who want to make better use of their land and, at the same time, enhance the rural character and beauty of West Bolton. Partners would pool their land and resources essentially to operate as a cooperative farming business, dedicated to quality hay production, forest management and potentially, raising and marketing grass-­fed cattle, and large enough to be financially viable. The products would be sold under a distinctive West Bolton brand, that could one day include other locally-produced products.

The benefits would be numerous. Farms that are currently owned by non­-farmers would be put to good use and managed in a sustain­able way that would keep fields cleared and healthy. Partners would benefit from economies of scale and pooled expertise, equipment and manpower. Jobs would be created for people with farming and forest management expertise. Branding to reinforce the special character of West Bolton could one day be a lucrative identity in today’s ‘buy-­local’ trends.

Blazing a path forward

But like many great ideas and exciting goals, the devil is in the details. And WBAG is now face to face with working out the details of the next steps: What should a legal partnership look like? How would the farming and forestry operations work in practice? What types of memberships should exist? And importantly, how would it all be financed?

“A business model is still to be decided. We aim to define the model in the new year, and develop a start­up action plan and budget,” said Bruce Smith of Argyll Road, a retired agricultural economist and one of the members of the group.

But WBAG has made progress on a number of other fronts. The eight original members, with 1800 acres, kicked in $2200 each and secured $25,000 in government grants to do initial research and planning. WBAG now has a plan to focus on forest management and hay production, and in the longer term, to explore the possibility of a joint effort to raise and market grass-­fed cattle in a viable manner.

New members welcome

The group is also looking for new members – West Bolton landowners who want to get involved in forest management or hay production and are willing to pay a $750 membership fee to access pooled expertise, experience and manpower. New members will be asked to participate in decision­-making to shape WBAG, and to consider becoming a recognized agricultural or forestry producer.

Smith is optimistic that the group can turn this great idea into reality, even though some in the community are skeptical. The idea has gone through a couple of iterations over the past decade or so, but none so developed as this latest one. Many people want to take steps to protect the agricultural character of West Bolton. Fifty years ago about 70 per cent of the municipality was field, today, it is about 30 per cent, Smith said. It is just a question of finding the right path to make it happen.

For more information about WBAG and how to get involved, contact Caroline Gosselin cgconsultante@hotmail.com.