The necessity of young farmers to a truly sustainable food system.


Think “Farmer.”

What comes to mind? A Mr. Magoo style character in overalls? Perhaps a white bearded man chewing on a bit of straw?

Unfortunately, this exaggerated image is not far off the mark. The 2007 Agricultural Census reported that “the fastest growing group of farm operators is those 65 years and over.” The average age of a Washington State farmer is 58.

Why are there so few young farmers? Duncan Hilchey, editor of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, explains, “whether they end up working on or owning a farm, starting a cheese-making business, founding a community nutrition program, making a policy argument in a legislative office, or running a nonprofit organization, the global food system is still largely stacked against them.”

Young farmers are especially limited in the face of global food systems because they do not have the capital necessary for supporting a viable farm business, nor do they have an established network of fellow farmers. Therefore many young famers get discouraged before they even get going.

Enter “The Greenhorns,” whose mission is to promote, recruit and support young farmers. They Greenhorns are working with other sustainable farming stakeholders to launch, “National Young Farmers Coalition,” which hopes to connect both fledgling and young farmers across the nation. Organizations such as this support the larger food movement by supporting young farmers, who will sustain agricultural production (and food security) once the old timers, ahem, kick the bucket.

The contemporary food movement largely over looks this particular issue – sustainable farms are sustained by sustainable farmers. The aging population of farmers’ means attention must be placed on training and supporting young farmers. Cultivating young farmers is paramount for sustainable agriculture to continue, let alone flourish.