In February 2008, Zoë Bradbury left her job at Ecotrust, where she was a regular contributor to Edible Portland, to start farming on Oregon’s southern coast. Right after leaving, she wrote, “I pulled up to my new greenhouse on Floras Creek with a riot of saw-toothed artichoke divisions in the back of the truck, teased them apart into one-gallon transplant pots, and officially began my first season farming for myself, next door to my mom and sister.”
Over the next year, she kept a blog for Edible Portland called Diary of a Young Farmer. Her intention to share her experiences as she began farming has blossomed into a full-fledged collaborative book, which she co-edited, hitting stores this month: Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement.
I caught up with her to talk about the book, learn about her life at Valley Flora Farm in Langlois, and get a glimmer of what the New Farmers’ Movement is and where it’s headed. Read more
When I was in undergrad in the Northeast, around 15 years ago, a degree in “Food Studies” was unheard of. A campus farm or edible garden was something reserved for agriculture schools or off-campus hippie/granola enclaves. However, the past 5 years have shown a proliferation of opportunities to get trained as farmers, gardeners, food policy makers, and food law practitioners.
On a recent site visit to Portland, Oregon, I met with FoodCorps service site supervisor Caitlin Blethen and her service member Jessica Polledri. Caitlin told me about her local program that trains school garden coordinators. This signaled to me a similar kind of sea change. It indicated that there is a desire out there to be trained in this work, and that there is a (slowly) growing market of jobs being created to do this work. I’ll let Jessica—a graduate of the program– take it from here: Read more
I have a weird fascination with inventions, and often wonder what the beginning of something was. What led to someone coming up with stained glass? Or what about an alarm clock? These are simple creations that pale in comparison with even more complex items that we also use without much thought…dishwashers? Copy machines? This computer? Maybe I should have pursued a career in engineering, but more likely my preoccupation with these inventions is due to the fact that I have little understanding of them. It seems that that disconnect between the things we use and depend on and how they function leads to a pretty common level of frustration. The rise in DIY projects and interest that we are seeing these days surely has to do with that frustration leading to a push for self-reliance.
I think it also has to do with a larger disconnect, one that has moved us away from community minded information sharing and collaboration. We have less and less opportunity in this modern world to wave down a neighbor with a question about chicken husbandry or how to fix a broken well pump. Instead, we jump on the Internet and Google the answer, hoping that the source we choose to trust is reputable and fact-based. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) has launched a project for the today’s sustainable farming community that brings the best of both worlds together. FarmHack taps the same age-old premise of learning directly from others in a similar community while creating innovative open source sharing technologies to reach small farmers around the globe. Read more
When Jesse Kuhn started Marin Roots Farm at age 28, he already had dirt under his fingernails. He’d studied ag in college, managed a student farm, and worked as a landscaper. But when it came to succeeding financially in the farming business, he had a long way to go. “I was charging up my credit cards like crazy and bouncing balances back and forth,” he says. “I almost had to declare bankruptcy during the first year.”
Almost 10 years and many lessons later, Marin Roots is a well-established organic specialty produce business. “It’s a lot of people’s dream to live off the land, but the reality of it is, you have to have a plan for how you’re going to pay the bills,” says Kuhn.
His journey is not unlike that of many beginners who are eager to try their hand at farming but don’t yet have all the necessary skills and resources. In a recent report titled Building a Future with Farmers, the National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) surveyed 1,000 young and beginning farmers across the US and found that access to land, capital, health care, credit, and business training posed huge challenges. Read more
“You’re farming in Alaska?! What can you possibly grow there?” This was a common response when I told people I was moving to Alaska to be an AmeriCorps VISTA at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Ester, Alaska. To be honest, I myself wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When I arrived in April, the ground was still covered in ice, the fields covered in snow. Three months later, I’ve discovered the shocking truth. In Alaska, a food revolution is brewing, and it’s led by 12 year olds. Read more
In this era when consumers want to know how many “food miles” their carrots traveled and restaurant menus list the distance from farm to fork, restaurant owners are increasingly putting in their own farms on rooftops, abandoned lots and nearby agricultural plots.
The trend has caught on with high-end, Michelin-starred restaurants in California such as The French Laundry in Napa and Manresa in Los Gatos as well as more casual places, such as Pauline’s Pizzeria in San Francisco and the Fremont Diner in Sonoma.
The growing number of restaurant farms is welcome news to new farmers like Rose Robertson, 28, who, like many new farmers, is trained but without a plot of land to call her own. After interning for a year at a farm in Santa Barbara, Robertson knew she wanted to farm but also knew she did not want to be a cog in a large-scale farming operation. She worried that at a big farm, workers like her would end up, “spending your whole day picking beans,” she said. Read more
Ana Catalán may seem young, but don’t let this 23-year-old fool you; when it comes to farming, she’s wise beyond her years. As the youngest child and only daughter of María Catalán, matriarch and owner of Catalán Family Farm, Ana plays a crucial role in the workings of this Hollister-based organic farm.
“I am basically trained to run the business right alongside my mother,” she said on a recent Thursday at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, while waiting in line at the Blue Bottle kiosk for her second (or was it third?) soy latte of the day. Anna’s three older brothers all work for the farm as well—one manages restaurant relations and orders while the other two sell produce at farmers markets for a commission—but, as Ana sees it, “together, my mother and I are the brain of the business.”
Being the brain of the business generally means working seven days a week, either at a market, in the office, or around the 15-acre farm. It’s not a lifestyle Ana shares with many other people her age. “I honestly only have close friends, because they understand that my job consumes my life,” she said. Read more
With young people revolutionizing the good food movement, it’s slightly ironic that at 29, I’m farming on one of the oldest agricultural landmarks in Missouri. I first visited the Mueller Farm as a teenager, when my dad took me there to visit Al and Caroline Mueller, who had been working the land since FDR was president. Since I was his “vegetable-eating” kid who grew food in our backyard, my dad thought I might like to see a “bigger garden.” It seems only fitting that now I’m back, trying to help the Mueller’s legacy grow into even bigger “gardens” throughout St. Louis. Read more
As the average age of farmers in the U.S. continues to raise, young farmers are beginning to sprout up across the nation. The recent documentary GROW!, directed by Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson, showcases the resurgence of young organic farmers in the state of Georgia. The film highlights 20 individuals across 12 farms who have found their way back to the land, whether working on a family-owned farm, buying their own, or, in most cases, using another farmer’s land to grow food for their community. Read more
The hard-working young couple that runs Brookford Farm in Rollinsford, New Hampshire did not grow up farming. Luke and Catarina Mahoney are part of a generation of farmers raised in cities and suburbs that has returned to the land, not out of family duty, but because of their own desire to make a connection with the land. Read more