The age and disappearance of the American Farmer

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for every one farmer under the age of 25, there are 5 farmers who are 75 or older.  We are losing farmers faster than we can replace them.  It is a rate that is not sustainable.  It is very difficult for a young person or family to enter the farming industry.  Land costs are at record high, equipment cost can be prohibitive, and typical returns per acre for certain crops are extremely low.  Yet we need young farmers to replace the ones who are leaving the industry.

Farms are disappearing.  The government defines a farm as an entity that sells at least $1000.00 of agricultural related products a year.  By these terms, there were 2.2 million farms operating in the country in 2007.  Less than one percent of the country claim farming as an occupation, and of this one percent, only 45% of them claim farming as their main source of income.   By way of comparison, in 1935, the U.S. population was 127 million and of those 6.8 million were farmers.

Farmers feed the world.  Farmers clothe the world.  It is an occupation that needs to be filled, but few are waiting in line to fill it.  It is an honorable profession, it is a difficult profession, and it is an underpaid profession.

Farming is just as much art as it is science.  Sure, if you drop a seed in the ground, it wants to grow. However, certain areas of farming are not learned in the class room, or read in a book, magazine, or scientific journal.  The classroom will not teach anyone the proper day to harvest sweet corn.  A scientific journal will not get you any closer to harvesting lettuce on time before it gets bitter.  These tasks are learned, hands on, in the field, by the farmer.  Through careful observation, trial and error, even sometimes luck, farmers develop skills and abilities that make them experts in the crops they grow.  If these skills and abilities are not passed on to the next generation of farmers, they are lost, unless by chance their methods are discovered by another farmer.

Luckily, for whatever reason, the local food movement is causing young people, with no prior training or experience in the farming industry, to become farmers.  There are countless blogs and facebook pages telling the stories of young adults, many of whom have college degrees in unrelated fields, who quit their jobs to return to the land and farm.  A larger portion of the population is beginning to understand the dangers of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, not just as it effects us, as consumers, but as it effects the soil and the health of the earth as well.  More people want organic food, and many also want locally produced organic food.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and farmers’ markets are saving the small American Farm.  There is no better way to support a local farmer than by shopping at a local area farmers’ market or by becoming a member of a CSA.  By shopping at a farmers’ market, the customer is getting an extremely fresh product,  often times, a unique product, that can not be found anywhere else, except at local markets.   The farmer is right there, to ask any questions about how it was grown, when it was harvested, or what the best way to cook it is.  Through this interaction, a wonderful relationship develops, between the grower, and the customer.  This relationship is what I enjoy most from farming.

To the patrons of the Alta West Farmers’ Market and the Shelby Farmers’ market:  Thank you for bringing our produce into your homes and onto your tables.  Because of your support, we are now proud to count ourselves among the 1 percent of American Farmers.

-Bruce

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