Posted on Wed, April 22, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
5 Comments | Categories:
by Slow Food USA intern Melissa Rosenberg
We read two blog posts lately that got us stewing about the task we have ahead of us. That is, the task of helping to nurture, support, and sustain a new generation of farmers. One post was by Kerry Trueman about young farmers being our future, and one was by Leslie Hatfield featuring a young farming couple and the older couple who showed them the ropes.
One way to support this push is to contribute to the Grow A Farmer Campaign this spring and help to financially secure UC Santa Cruzs six-month Apprenticeship organic training program . The campaign goal is to raise $250,000 by June 2009. The funds raised will help build required apprentice housing on the UCSC Farm to keep the program affordable and accessible to trainees for generations to come. You can help ensure that there will be a new generation of farmers dedicated to increasing ecological sustainability and social justice in the food and agriculture system.
By way of background: The United States is in dire need of a new generation of farmers. According to the most recent USDA agriculture census, the average age of a U.S. farm operator increased from 55.3 in 2002 to 57.1 in 2007. The census also conveys the number of operators 75 years and older grew by 20%, while the number of operators under 25 years of age decreased by 30%. As the average age of farmers continues to rise, and these farmers retire, who will grow our food?
Interestingly, 18% of organic farmers are under the age of 35, compared to 5.8% in conventional agriculture; there appears to be some indication that the next generation of farm operators may favor sustainable growing methods. Ken Meter, an analyst at the Crossroads Resource Center, a nonprofit advocacy group in Minnesota, believes the expanding market for organic and locally grown produce is enabling well-run small farms to thrive.
Enter Severine von Tscharner Fleming, Slow Food friend, documentary filmmaker and young farmer advocate/phenom, whom weve chronicled here before on the blog. In order to track and map this growth of young farmers, she created Serve Your Country Food, an an interactive map project , charting farmers around the country who are under the age of 40. In addition she has done a great job of collecting and making accessible resources for people looking to begin a career in farming.
However, in order to produce a new generation of farmers, we also need to provide young people with the education and support they need to survive and flourish. Studies show that new farms experience high turnover and the most vital element of success is experience. A small number of non-profit and government programs assist new farmers with financial planning, technical production, and land acquisition. Through apprentice programs, working farms offer interested individuals a chance to gain production skills (for more on this, read Hatfield’s post, mentioned above).
The Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is one such place. They offer a six month full time apprenticeship in ecological horticulture that attracts participants from across the country and abroad. The program aims to provide the requisite training and knowledge to produce and market fresh, delicious organic food while caring for the land and community in which they work. This past fall, interest in the program was at an all time high; for the 2009 apprenticeship, 152 applications were received for 38 positions.
Today, more than 1,200 apprentices have been trained in the organic fields, orchards and greenhouses at UC Santa Cruz, learning not only how to raise food and flowers, but how to make the food system itself more sustainable by addressing issues of social justice. They are today’s organic farmers, market gardeners, urban agriculturalists, school garden teachers, and others working to promote local, healthy food in communities around the country.
Help support this program by donating to their Grow a Farmer Campaign!