The Next Generation of Young Farmers
|A group of folks from the National Young Farmers Coalition
When you picture the iconic American farmer, who do you envision? Is it someone in their mid- to late 20s, firm-bodied and spirit bright, and without many of those facial lines of wisdom? Probably not. Younger farmers remain the minority in this country; the average American farmer is 58 years old. There is but one farmer under 35 for every six over 65. However, the soils may be slowing turning to welcome in the next generation of youthful hands.
While the fastest growing age group among farmers is still the 65 and older crowd, the second fastest segment is those aged 25 to 34. Younger folks-those commonly referred to as "millennials"-are becoming increasingly interested in agriculture. In a romantic resurgence of
that has led to dozens of how-to
, homegrown food is right on the radar among many young people. It may be the high prevalence of preventable disease in America or a growing distrust in Big-Ag corporations, but more and more millennials are taking the hoe into their own hands and learning how to grow sustainable, organic food.
Growing numbers of young farmers are especially pronounced in urban areas, including cities like
. Not interested in simply growing food, they wan to grow it without chemical fertilizers or synthetic pesticides, reducing their dependence on fossil fuels. And often they are farming in very limited space, right in the heart of a bustling city.
Millennial Farmers is a D.C.-based group that works to "de-industrialize the food system by creating easy, simple and cost-effective ways to grow food in the city, using vertical farming methods." Over half the world's population lives in urban environments, but Millennial Farmers believes that living urban need not mean living completely separate from nature and being unable to grow your own food. They provide
, four-towered growing systems that urban dwellers can use to grow the equivalent of what they could harvest in 500 square feet of a traditional farm, to people in the environs of D.C.
While the vast majority of farmers in the United States are male, the number of farms operated by women is rising, from 5% in 1978 to 14% by 2007. Growing especially fast is the number of tiny farms: those doing less than $1,000 in annual sales. According to the USDA, about 42% of women-run operations took in $1,000 or less in 2013. But not all women farmers have small operations. By 2007 nearly 2,000 female farmers had sales of $1 million or more. Most produce poultry, eggs, grains or specialty crops.
As the current generation of established farmers begins to hand over more responsibility to their younger protégés, it will be interesting to watch for a larger cultural shift: changing notions of where the food on our plate should come from.