Farming is a valuable part of our economy and daily life, but we don’t often hear stories from farmers working the soil and growing our food, especially those new to the field. In the last few years, these new farmers have stepped up to answer the call to farm—here’s why:
Dana Gentile at Darlin’ Doe Farm in Saugerties, NY:
“I am a meat goat farmer. My partner Abbi and I started our farm, Darlin’ Doe Farm, in October 2009. We are currently renting land in Saugerties, NY for our small herd of meat goats. We believe in a natural and holistic approach to raising healthy livestock. I enjoy working with animals on a daily basis. I like growing my own meat and becoming a local source for naturally raised goat meat. Being able to provide my family, friends and customers with healthy, high quality meat is why I became a farmer.”
Evan and Rachel Gregoire at Boondockers Farm in Portland, OR:
“Growing the community is so important, and we want to empower other people to grow their own food, and understand what we’re doing. That’s the most important piece, it’s the education, and the empowerment.”
Matt and Jen Schwab at Inspiration Plantation in Ridgefield, WA:
“We got into farming after inheriting the property in 2004 and looking at ways to generate an income from the land. Around that same time Matt read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, followed by books written by; Joel Salatin, Wendell Berry, Masanobu Fukuoka, and Bill Mollison. Over the next few years we attempted to grow nursery stock on the farm but because we didn’t live on the farm and we both had full time jobs we weren’t very successful. In 2008 we decided to sell our house, move to the farm and create a new life for ourselves.”
“I’ve been working the sea on-and-off my whole life. At 15 years old I quit high school to work the lobster boats out of Lynn, MA; later I fished cod and crab boats on the Bering Sea. As overfishing decimated the cod stocks, I headed back to my birthplace of Newfoundland to try my hand as a fish farmer growing halibut and salmon. But all the while as I worked these jobs, I witnessed first-hand how our oceans are imperiled from the twin threats of commercial fishing and climate change. I came to realize that I needed to change my relationship with the sea. So after some late nights reading up on how to “green the seas”, I decided to become an oysterman.”
Pawel Buda and Kelly Firkins of Delabu Farm, Minnesota:
“I discovered my love for farming in Montana. After graduation from Clemson University in Biosystems Engineering, I decided I didn’t want to be an engineer; I wanted to create solutions by developing local food systems.”
Jacob and Courtney Cowgill of Prairie Heritage Farm, Montana:
“We both left Central Montana as young adults for school and careers but came back as soon as we possibly could. We wanted to find a way to make a life in Central Montana but we also wanted to give back to the communities that raised us and to be part of sustaining and reinvigorating the culture and economy of rural Montana. So, we started a farm. Our farm is in a lot of ways the kind of farm that existed in this region 50-100 years ago: diversified, small-scale and locally based. Our vision is to be a model for how to revive elements of that old kind of agriculture alongside the kind of agriculture that has sustained our communities in the last several decades.”
“Running an organic farm feels like a way to affect change with the daily motions of my life. We will work to improve the land where we will live and make it more fertile and healthy every year. Farming provides me with super-high quality food and the opportunity to talk to others about eating and cooking. In addition to the idea of connecting with people over such an intimate and important thing as food, I am constantly tested by the day-to-day challenges farming provides. It tests my skills of observation, mechanics, human interaction, on-the fly decision-making and even my math skills.”
Cowboys and pioneers have always been American icons, but it is the farmer who planted the seeds of American prosperity by feeding our growing country and being a careful steward of our land. The farmer is a patriot: hard-working, independent, productive, community-spirited, and self-made. Through the centuries our American farm economy has stayed strong through good and troubled times, pursued innovation and improvement, and continued to find new and creative ways to grow food efficiently and responsibly.
But the call to farm is more urgent now than ever. While only 1% of the population is involved in farming, our US agriculture is collectively entering an era of mass farm turnover. Over 40% of farmers are now over 55 years in age. While these individuals are still hale, hearty, and enthusiastically growing the food for the nation, they need a new generation of young farmers ready, willing, and able to take over their successful businesses and continue to carry agriculture into the 21st century.
The good news is that the number of young farmers (those under the age of 35) has doubled since 2002. These young farmers come from all sorts of backgrounds, and start farming for many reasons. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is supporting the young farmer movement by inviting more new farmers to take on the duty of serving our country food and by providing new educational programs.
NEW FARMERS WANTED
To farm is to partake in a new civil revolution. Any individual who chooses to answer the “call to farms” can start to farm For many farmers, the very act of farming goes hand in hand with reviving their local economies and growing stronger communities. The call to farm comes from the land, the country, the economy, the environment, the health system, and the food system, as well as our families, friends, new immigrants and so many others. All are urging and supporting you to join in forging a new farm destiny. It’s the responsibility of each citizen farmer to take a greater part in forging a new food system and leading your community into the future. How will you respond?
Farming is an ancient practice. As the United States population has grown and changed, the demand for food has remained. Take a look at this timeline that highlights America’s farming heritage.
Approximately 4,000 years ago, natives of North and South America begin practicing farming. These indigenous peoples domesticate, breed and cultivate a large array of plant species including corn, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, beans, and sunflowers. These species now constitute 50–60% of all crops in cultivation worldwide.
TIMELINE Coming Soon!
No farmer will tell you that their job is easy, but they will tell you how rewarding it can be. Hardships come in many forms, particularly getting access to land and to financing. Yet, the rewards of farming are many; self-reliance and self-development, and the chance to invent and figure out new, creative ways to work. It also means being your own boss.
Matt and Jen Schwab own and operate Inspiration Plantation in Ridgefield, WA. Inspiration Plantation is a 24 acre diversified family farm that specializes in pasture raised animals. They raise chickens (for meat and eggs), turkeys, lambs and pigs, with plans to raise ducks, geese and squab.
Farming is a sound career investment. Everyone needs to eat! People are working in the local food system all around the urban, suburban and rural landscape. Farmers have access to the best food and develop deep community connections. Here are some examples of the many exciting farm careers out there:
Mary Blue is the founder of Farmacy Herbs, an urban farm and holistic health and education center in Providence, Rhode Island. On a quarter acre of land, Mary grows vegetables and medicinal herbs that are crafted into a variety of products including teas, tinctures, salves, creams, and syrups.
Hector Tejada started Conuco Farm and independent business, an 11-acre farm in upstate New York. Mr. Tejada has 82 CSA shares in Brooklyn, he attends the market on 175th St. every Saturday, and he has just opened a spot at the Union Square Market in Manhattan. He has many long rows of greens, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, peas, melon, and squash. He grows any delicious vegetable you can think of.
If you don’t know a thing about farming, don’t count yourself out! Many new farmers start with zero experience and learn along the way. All these farmers emphasize the importance of learning new things every day, whether it’s through getting their hands dirty as an apprentice, finding a farmer mentor, reading books, taking classes, visiting other farms and businesses, or learning on their own farm through trial and error.
Caitlin Arnold and Holly Mills at Sidewalk End’s Farm in Portland, OR:
“Work for and learn as much as you can from other people. Join apprenticeships and internships for a few years to make sure you actually like it. Educate yourself about the realities of farming, national and local farm policy, and what people in your area want and need. Learn where you live and farm and try to figure out what will make the most sense for where you are. Consider that unless you are already wealthy, you will certainly be real poor for at least a few years. Get okay with being poor. Save your money. Figure that you might have to start, quit, start over, try something different before you really get your
What do all many new farmers share in common? They often started their farming careers with an apprenticeship, or a job working on someone else’s farm. Hands-on learning is the best way to gain the experience you will need to farm on your own someday.
Below is advice from several new farmers to those who want to farm. Each of these young farmers has encountered the challenges of a farming career and stuck with it. By learning needed skills, some easy and some hard , and making connections with other farmers and your local community, you can figure out a way to start farming, too!
Rachel Gregoire at Boondockers Farm in Portland, OR:
“Diversify and find a niche. If you go into the game with something unique, there are so many species that are in need of conservation, you can start there… Start with biodiversity, something unique, something special, and market that and make it work.”
“Just do it. You just have to get involved and try. Take classes. Read books. Go online.”
Pawel Buda and Kelly Firkins at Delabu Farm in South Central MN:
“Go to as many farm related activities as you can and if possible – volunteer. There are so many people that you’ll meet and work with that have great information and ideas!”