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Young Farmers Begin the Path Towards Equality with Loans

Starting a farm is not easy, a business in which high startup costs and a lack of available land for purchase or rent are obvious obstacles. As our nation’s farmers grow older–the average American farmer is 57–and we simultaneously undergo a shift towards reclaiming our food system, young and beginning farmers are stepping up. Government programs designed to help farmers have existed for many years, but much of this funding is only within reach of large-scale producers that have been in the business for many years. Several USDA programs are geared towards helping farms based on production, favoring commodity farmers and large-scale farmers, which keep these loans out of the hands of smaller start-ups.

But new opportunities are in development for young farmers. Read more

Growing a New Crop of Farmers

The California farming community is facing a demographic crisis. The average age of a California farmer is 58, and nearly 20 percent of them are 70 or older. As these farmers approach retirement, California needs to train new ones if we are to continue to feed our country and keep a healthy rural economy in the decades ahead. And with farm internships in California subject to strict labor laws, opportunities to get a hands-on farming education have become even fewer.

To help meet this need, the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, CA recently launched the California Farm Academy (CFA) to train beginning farmers in specialty crop production. Read more

Zoë Bradbury Rallies the New Farmers’ Movement

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

Making a Career in School Gardens

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

FarmHack: DIY Farmer Collaboration

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

Seeds For Young Farmers

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

Restaurant Gardens a Boon to New Farmers

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

Next Generation Farmer: Ana Catalán

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

GROW! A Film About the Next Generation of Young Farmers in Georgia

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

Following the Farmers of Northern Japan, After the Quake

Filmmaker Junko Kajino grew up on a farm in Japan and, although she now lives in Chicago, she’s remained interested in the organic farming community back home. In the weeks since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Dai-ichi, Kajino has kept a close eye on the organic rice and vegetable growers in the area and she noticed certain themes in the messages appearing on blogs and social media sites. “They focused on how to reduce radiation, how to cultivate their contaminated land, and what they can grow in their polluted soil,” she recalls.

Despite the severe damage to their land and the heightened concern about ongoing radiation, Kajino says, the farmers were not complaining. Instead, she says, they’ve  started talking about what to plant. “This was the hope I saw in the last several months and I need to document that.” Read more