I was in college when I decided I wanted to learn to farm. Growing up in the suburbs of San Diego, I had never thought much about where my food came from. I didn’t have much opportunity to follow the journey of my food any further back than the grocery store shelves. But once I moved away, I became increasingly intrigued by the idea of being a farmer. Maybe it was the way the whole community came out for the farmers market every week that got me, or the realization that I was much happier spending my days outside, or the growing craving to understand the science of making plants the happiest, or all the beneficial ways one could impact the environment and also produce food. Whatever the combination of reasons, I couldn’t stop dreaming about all the ways I could learn to farm. This early dreaming shifted the course of my life.
I’ve come across a good number of young farmers on my travels, many of whom were drawn to farming much earlier than I was. But this is not the general trend. According to the 2012 Agricultural Census, the average age of farmers in the United States is 58. That average has been creeping up steadily over the past 30 years, and at the same time, the number of new farmers is declining. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of new farmers, or farmers who had been on their current farm for ten years or less, declined by 20 percent. There are six times as many farmers over 65 as there are farmers under 35. One quarter of current farmers are expected to retire by 2030, creating the potential for economic decline in rural communities, decreased food access, and a slew of other issues. In rural regions in general, young people are flocking to urban centers, leaving behind aging populations in search of careers that are more profitable and less physically demanding than agriculture.
If we are going to avert these issues, we need a drastic change. We need more young people to step into this profession, which means showing them early on the magic in it, without discounting the hard work required. We need to give young people opportunities to learn about how to recognize good soil, grow their own food, care for the pollinators, and create balanced and thriving ecosystems. We need to create a society where this profession is valued, and viewed as a good career choice, which means making the necessary changes to make it profitable, and viable. We need to make sure all people feel welcomed into this profession, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, identity, or culture. We need to create resilient, empowered, diverse and culturally thriving communities in rural regions, highlighting and supporting what already exists while also creating connections to broader cultural and artistic communities. Much of this work has already begun, but there is so much more to do. Terra Cultura is poised and ready to contribute to these efforts.