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Phil Ferraro: Non-profit Organization That Exists To Provide Space and Resources for Urban and Rural Communities

The PEI Farm Centre is a non-profit organization that exists to provide space and resources for urban and rural communities. The primary activities of the Centre have evolved over the past 50 years. What began as a facility offering office space to commodity groups and meeting rooms for community events has expanded to become a strategic food hub and therapeutic health centre.

Our central location in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, includes a large facility and the largest urban food garden in Canada where people come together to learn, support, and promote the health and well-being of our communities by furthering a better understanding and exchange of views between agricultural, urban, and industrial groups and organizations.

In 2014, we created The Legacy Garden on 8.5 acres of land immediately behind the Farm Centre. The Garden has grown to become one of the largest urban farms in Canada with over 200 community garden allotments that are rented to community members so they have gardening space to grow their own food.

We also have a community food forest and a goodwill garden from which we donate, on average, over 20,000 pounds of food each year to various charities in order to help alleviate food insecurity to the most vulnerable people in our society.

We want to do our part to make the community of Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island a more welcoming, inclusive and well-fed place!

In order to help fulfill our goals, we have initiated a therapeutic horticulture program for young adults with intellectual disabilities and seniors. We are the only organization on PEI pursuing therapeutic horticulture programming for the community.

Tell us about yourself?

My father, Scott Nearing and Murray Bookchin were my most influential mentors as a young man. They influenced me greatly and were probably the main reasons why my paths through life always seem to revolve around agriculture and community service.

I am a registered farmer on Prince Edward Island, a founding member of the Atlantic Canada Organic Regional Network, founder of the Institute for Bioregional Studies and board of director of The Centre for Local Prosperity.

I have been working at the PEI Farm Centre for over two decades; first as the Executive Director of the PEI ADAPT Council, managing programs on behalf of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; helping the agriculture industry adopt more environmentally responsible ways of growing food and managing new ways of doing business . Since I have worked in the not-for-profit sector all my life, growing food to donate to charities in order to alleviate food insecurity has become second nature to me.

In 2014, we created the Legacy Garden. The garden has grown to become one of the largest urban food gardens in Canada. In addition to growing food, we also offer therapeutic horticulture programs as a way of doing our part to make our community a more welcoming, inclusive and well-fed place.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Trust your instincts. Pursue your dream. Keep the faith and wear a mask

What problem does your business solve?

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the food system is on the verge of collapse and must change to a more localized and sustainable system of production and distribution.

Our top priority with both the Centre and the Legacy Garden is to provide a meeting place for agricultural and not-for-profit organizations to meet and conduct business.

Over the past nine years, The Centre has expanded as a food hub where farmers distribute their farm products directly to CSA customers.

Our community garden, with over 200 allotments provides space for community residents to grow a portion of their own food. In the Goodwill Garden we grow over 20,000 pounds of food which we donate to charities to help alleviate food insecurity.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

My children, my children’s children, my neighbours and friends whom I have yet to meet are all the inspiration I need

What is your magic sauce?

We operate as a social enterprise. Rather than lobby government for policy change we are action oriented, hoping to succeed and create example that others can replicate

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

We are in the initial stages of replicating the Legacy Garden in eastern PEI on land managed by the Institute for Bioregional Studies so that we can provide the same or similar services to residents in the eastern half of rural PEI

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Funding is always a challenge. However, with the more success we have and the longer we pursue our vision, it seems it becomes easier to find the funds we need to continue. Climate change is starting to be a challenge. However, so far it has not impeded our ability to grown crops but it is something we will all have to adapt to in the near future.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

Over the years we have hired many students and young adults who developed an ambition to farm and moved on to work at commercial farms or start their own. Prior to COVID we would have over 1000 volunteers per year. We hope that as the pandemic subsides that volunteers will return. People can join our Facebook page, Farm Centre Legacy Community Garden or email us at: [email protected]

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