Thursday, January 15, 2015

New wave of farmers are young, city-raised, college-educated and environmentally conscious

While the average age of farmers rose from 51 to 58 in the last three decades, a new, young breed of environmentally aware, city-bred, college educated farmers is emerging, Fred Gebhart reports for Healthline. Zach Wolf, a 30-something farmer in New York, told him, "Young farmers today are environmentally aware and socially active. Sustainability isn’t an ideal; it is a life they want to live and to help others live.”

Where did this new breed of farmer come from? "Many observers trace this trend back to the 2007 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma," Gebhart writes. "Author Michael Pollan traced the origins of four meals: a McDonald’s lunch, a dinner from Whole Foods market, another using ingredients from a small Virginia farm and a feast of items he foraged and hunted. The book was a wake-up call to the problems associated with Big Agriculture, including reliance on petroleum, environmental and biologic degradation, obesity, poor nutrition and bland, boring food."

The number of farms is down from 6.4 million in 1910 to 2.2 million in 2010, as farmers moved from rural areas to urban ones to seek other jobs, Gebhart writes. In recent years the trend has been reversed, with more people moving from urban to rural areas to become farmers. Nationally, the number of young farmers is up 3 percent, and the number of farmers under 35 in Maine is up 40 percent. (USDA graphic)

More young farmers has led to more organic farming, Gebhart writes. "Organic sales surged 11.5 percent in 2013, hitting a record $35 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. Most families—81 percent—choose organic food at least some of the time."

"The new generation of farmers has grown up in an era that values personal integrity and involvement," Gebhart writes. "Environmental issues are key because an unhealthy environment makes for unhealthy people. Climate change isn’t a debate; it’s a global problem that needs local change. Technology can improve almost anything, and collaboration is a way of life."

Wolf told him, “Young farmers bring a whole new mindset to traditional difficulties. Almost all of us are college-educated, which creates a different attitude toward learning and solving problems. Most of us didn’t come from farming families, so we had to learn through apprentice programs or some kind of hands-on training.” (Read more)

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