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Atlantic Canada's job seekers have had a particularly dry season this past year. There were losses in most sectors for the 15-24 demographic, according to StatsCan figures; some minor growth in retail, trades, and health services marked the only bright spots in the yearly report. But while things may look bleak on paper, this tough market is fertile ground for those young entrepreneurs willing to cultivate it ' literally.

Despite declines in the agricultural sector throughout Canada over the past year, Atlantic Canada's held steady. That's indicative of a trend towards land-based initiatives that's becoming apparent up and down the east coast, says Jean Arnold, director of the Falls Brook Centre, a sustainable community demonstration and training centre in rural New Brunswick. The only area of agriculture that is growing is organic agriculture, she says. Canada is simply unable to match demand. And it's not just about arugula and alfalfa sprouts. Of course there is a demand for organic vegetables, but Arnold also cites dairy, meat, home care products, shampoos and a whole host of specialty and niche products. You can make a living selling shitake mushrooms, or herbs and essential oils, or organic cheeses, she lists, adding that the demand for these and other home-grown products is so strong that organic growers at the Fredericton market are often sold out by 11am.

Beth McMahon, executive director of Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) explains the unique allure that the east coast holds for prospective farmers. Some young people come out, get really small loans because the land prices here are pretty cheap, and just start out from absolutely nothing. It's a true back to the land movement, she says. And there is so much support out here compared to Ontario or BC. There are actually people in government whose job it is to help people with the technical bits of farming. People will come out to your farm, look at your soil, talk about your plans. These services are free, and some are even geared towards people with no farming background at all. But you don't necessarily need to buy the proverbial farm to get involved. There are tons of apprenticeships and internships available, and both Arnold and McMahon have seen a growing movement towards cooperative farming, where groups of young people work a patch of land together to meet their needs as well as make a living off the fruits of their collective labor.

With an economy traditionally based on natural resources, eastern Canada is uniquely situated to take advantage of environmental initiatives in all areas of the job market. Let's look at it this way: in the Maritime area, historically we've been about fishing, farming, and forestry, Arnold explains. All of those are on a slippery slope. Mills are closing, single-industry towns are going down. So what is the revitalization of all those? Look at, for example, forest use that isn't for pulp and paper There's a great need for people to collect seeds, work in nurseries, and do restoration work. It's a whole different way of looking at forestry, as a process of renewal. There's quite a lot of potential in the forest industry as long as we look at trees as being valuable while they're still standing up.

And the so-called ÔÇÿgreen collar' workforce is only growing. Tamar Lorincz, executive director at the Nova Scotia Environmental Network (NSEN), sees massive potential in several key areas. We're training people at colleges and universities around sustainability. There's massive leadership at the community and training level, she begins. And the need for workers is wide-spread: tradespeople with a green bent are needed to upgrade and retrofit extant homes as well as build new ones; and passive solar, wind farms, and other renewable energy projects all over the Maritimes need staff. Wastewater and watershed management are really huge, Lorincz goes on. Solid waste and waste management is a big deal here too. We're experts here in Nova Scotia. We've been asked by other jurisdictions from around the world that want see how we manage our waste here. It's maybe not so sexy, but it will be increasingly important.

So why is all of this unique to Atlantic Canada? Arnold has a theory. Because we haven't really had such a thriving economy, and because there is still a sense of real community, people are able to substitute for big amounts of cash, she opines, citing the attitudes of the people who come through her centre looking for a livelihood that exists outside the whims of market. We get a lot of young people through Falls Brook Centre and we do a lot of hiring all the time, and when we ask what sort of lifestyle they want, a lot of those Maritime qualities ' strong community relationships, a sense of personal freedom and visions, hard work, making a difference ' come up and balance the salary level. It's important for young people to usher in a new economy and be part of that, rather than just hoping you can land a job and make $60 000 a year right off the bat and be settled for life. And, she adds with a laugh, designing your own thing and moving forward is actually quite good fun! jp

Photo: Gil Yarom/Thinkstock