By Hannah Graham, Managing Editor
The landscape of American farming is constantly evolving. Farmers are getting older. According to the farm census, in the 1980’s the average age of the farmer was 51. In 2012, the average farmer was 58. But when it comes to your local farmers markets; you won’t see many 'greybeards'.
The biggest news in the food industry today is a rising tide of young farmers. Many of them are city-born and college educated, and they are changing the way America eats, one pasture/field at a time.
New Generation, New Values
As most people know, farming is not an easy life. It is a constant job that does not run 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It is a lifestyle. The new generations of farmers are growing up in an era that values personal integrity and involvement. We, millennials, are very focused on environmental issues, which is important because an unhealthy environment makes for unhealthy people. So, young farmers are focusing less on the particular shape or color of the produce, and more on the taste of the produce. They are also using less fertilizers and pesticides in order to help lessen the environmental impact.
When it comes to problem solving, millennial farmers are bringing a whole new mindset to traditional farming issues. Most of the new farmers are college or trade school educated, which creates a different attitude toward learning and solving problems. How people navigate ambiguity and change is the difference between growth and decline. Young farmers lean towards being active problem solvers by using logical and creative reasoning.
The millennial farmers of today are more collaborative than past generations. They are working in teams to solve problems versus working alone in earlier generations. These millennials are not becoming farmers to get rich. They are doing it to earn a living in a way that intimately connects work and life. With that type of connection it gives these young farmers an incentive to be more efficient.
Now when it comes to technology, farmers have been early adaptors of it. From 19th century steam engines to drip irrigation, GPS assisted, laser-guided field contouring, internet connected technology, cellular phones, and more, farmers have been leaders in converting these technologies into functional tools. On the downside, most of these tools are only scaled for industrial farms that cover thousands of acres. This means that, the prices on that type of equipment are exceptionally high and unaffordable to the small farmer.
So farmers young and old are being resourceful. Although millennial farmers are taking it a step further. They are creating new farm equipment. Barry Griffin, a design engineer says, “The re-emergence of small-scale farming has created a need for small tractors and other tools and implements capable of performing traditional and newer farming tasks more efficiently and ergonomically.” So as a result, Barry Griffin is teaming up with Stone Barns Center on the Slow Tools Project. This project is creating appropriately scaled, affordable, and open-source tools to the growing ranks of young millennial farmers. Young farmers are also becoming inventive in terms of fixing their equipment. Farmers are hackers in general because they are unable to buy the parts they need off the shelf. Even if they were able to afford them, most of the materials are just not there. So as a result, young farmers are hacking and creating their own temporary ways to fix their equipment.
Virtual Farming Community
When it comes to farming, it is all about community and networking. Since millennials are so technologically savvy with social media, young farmers have decided to embrace a new level of community and networking through the use of technology.
Have you ever heard of Farm Hack? Farm Hack is an online community created by young millennial farmers and engineers that develops everything from remote monitors for compost piles to automated watering systems that use wireless sensors to check soil moisture and controls irrigation, bike powered root vegetable washers, and electric fences controlled by text messages.
On Farm Hack, the young farmer can search for a farming issue on their mind, post a tool design that they created, ask advice on a crop problem that needs to be solved, and answer any beginner’s question. This online community provides farmers with the ability “to get it right the first time.” Instead of wasting precious time and money on a new livestock scale, famers can just make one themselves out of simple spare farm parts.
There is currently a real revaluation of the value of farming and the contributions farmers make to the culture and the world around us. Millennial farmers are not simply running from the city to play farmer; they are creating a symbiosis where farm life and urban life depend on each other. Maybe it's time that we thank a farmer because without these innovative minds what would we eat?