Starting Young Farmers
“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming?
“And always the answer is: ‘Love. They must do it for love.’ Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide.”
― Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food
To start a farm from nothing is an amazing feat. Many people, young and old, are searching for their connection to the land and to create a livelihood from growing. It is not an easy endeavor – farming is difficult, tiresome work with great risk and often little chance of reward. These folks don’t do it for the reward though – they want to provide high quality food and make a living wage to support their families.
Take Bradley Family Farm as an example, Aaron and Nicole live in Saluda on family land tended for over 100 years. Aaron a firefighter in Hendersonville and Nicole teaches in the Polk County school system. Each hour spent away from their jobs is an hour they dedicate to their farming enterprise. Headlamps and a Gator are their tools to help them get the hours of chores done each evening and day off. They raise pastured pigs, produce free range eggs and pastured broilers, and cattle range the property eating their fill of rich grassland.
Aaron and Nicole want to see their farm grow and expand and provide for even more generations of Bradleys. Their story is much like many of the young farmers in our community and it lies at stark contrast to the figures we see every day.
The average age of the Polk County farmer is 60.2, almost half a year older than the state average.
A crisis is at hand, the need for a new generation of farmers is now. GRO is responding by forming the Beginner Farmer Program. Farmers will start on a collective large farm where they will work and learn together. As their abilities are honed they will have the chance to move on to land dedicated to their own efforts while still receiving support and guidance at locations spread throughout the community. Then, farmers will move to a larger parcel where they will have the chance to start growing and selling under their own farm name. These larger parcels can be located at the main farm or in cooperation with local landowners that have the ability and desire to lease their land. Farmers will be given advice, counsel, and with luck access to land that they can purchase. It is the expectation that farmers will then become mentors for farmers just beginning the program.
The program will play host to a myriad of farming opportunities. Steeped in sustainable teachings with opportunities to learn permaculture, organic practices, biointensive, and other sustainable farming methods. The grounds that the program resides will expand to include its own structure and land in which to work with housing for participants.
GRO also supports beginner farmers (and all farmers) via our other programs including pro-bono farm consulting and the Polk Toolshare Cooperative.
To create something from the soil, whether it be the grass that sustains the livestock or the fruit that feeds the family – young farmers are the future of a vibrant food system in our community. Click here to support them today.