Young Organic Farmers Are the Future of the American Food Industry


Take a look around the supermarket and you see the flash of organic products. The green thumbs, hippies, liberals, and new-agers are all getting what they want: fresh products, food they can trust, all in a rustic looking bag or box. Most of these products are really nothing too different from what is already mass-produced and put on the shelves of our grocery stores. But while the authenticity of many of these “certified organic” or “locally grown” products is up for debate, one thing is for certain; “organic” marketing reflects a national trend in our society. People are looking for healthier options, they want to trust food to be grown with care, and they want to have some idea of where their food comes from.

The connection between people and their food is a trend that is starting to really resonate with millennials. Young people, usually just outside of urban areas, are taking to small scale farming and trading. Millennials are choosing to grow their own food, and share what they are growing with others. This is a really good thing and while right now the movement may be small with just a few crunchy folk trying out some stuff, it reflects the larger movement at hand. Young people, with the help of older farmers, are growing their own food, raising more animals free-range, and producing small-scale dairy products because more people want this and care about the origins of their food.

Diploma in Hand, Off to the Farm

Young people in their twenties and thirties are taking to small-scaling farming for a variety of reasons. Many have their college degrees. They are political science majors and communications majors (some would argue mistake and mistake); they grew up in the suburbs or in cities, and they were not brought up on farms. In a survey given to young farmers, 78% of 1,300 respondents did not grow up on family farms. Furthermore, the majority were between 25 and 29 and mostly women. This is a striking statistic that is giving weight to the movement and treating young farmers as a demographic in the farming community.

Start-Ups Based on Idealism

Idealism and doing things with intrinsic purpose are the driving forces behind this movement. While there are many setbacks to being new to farming, many young farmers are banding together to help each other out. The National Young Farmer Coalition is a united group of inexperienced farmers whose sole purpose is to help the “next generation of farmers” by addressing firsthand issues of “young, first career farmers.” These young farmers tend to be college educated and they are concerned with growing and sharing their organic products on a face-to-face individual level. They grow food for farmers markets (which even the Department of Agriculture is behind these days), they grow dreadlocks and hold contra-dancing jamborees, and they attend seminars to learn more. (Note, this description is most people I went to college with, go Keene State!)

Most are not in it for any money, just the satisfaction of the work and the impact their lives have on those around them. It is a noble and humble life that is taken for the sake of learning and in the hope that what they do will change the world. At its core, it is a good thing.

Young people jumping on the organic farming movement, while idealistic in its beginnings, are also creating a growing and profitable business. Veteran farmer Jim Crawford urged young farmers in a piece recorded by NPR to stick by their ideals, but remember that farming is a business. Money, money management, and borrowing money have to become a part of these young farmer’s lives and they have to be good at it. So while they might be making a public statement to start, they need to see that there is a business to what they do as well.

What a Hippie Can Learn From Chipotle

This business side of the organic food movement is being reflected all over the country in people and companies supporting local food, free-range or antibiotic free animals, and local dairy products. Chipotle Mexican Grill recently made news in its use of only antibiotic free pork. While the pork drove their burrito prices up a full dollar (unheard of in the fast food industry) sales have been through the roof. It is all because of advertising an organic product and the product itself delivering on taste. While the “small-scale” meat industry is small in the United States now, more farmers are beginning to catch onto the trend and get in on the movement.

This push for organic and local products is a very positive national trend and it is one that will have positive effects for future generations. People will be concerned with where their food comes from, they will be willing to support local farmers and will trust their farmers. There will generally be more concern for local environmental protection to keep our food free of pollutants.  

Foodscapers over Landscapers  

This trend of “buying local and buying organic” is translating to the small boom in young farmers. It is an idealistic movement that is laying the foundation for future small-scale farmers and a more sustainable society. The next step is getting these “from the suburb upstarts” to get their parents to ditch their huge lawns and grow local. Their property used to be old farms anyway.

For some good profiles on young farmers check out this Yes! Magazine piece.