Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, a nonprofit 80-acre four-season farm and education center in Pocantico Hills, NY (a hop, skip and a jump from Manhattan) is looking for aspiring farmers to counteract an alarming trend in agriculture: an aging population of farmers that isn’t getting any younger.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, as of the 2002 Census, the average age of all U.S. farmers was approximately 55. More distressing, though, is that from 1982 to 2002 the number of young principal farmers under 35 years old has declined from 16% to 9%. Stone Barns Center attributes this decline in young farmers to years of economic forces that have deterred young people from regarding farming as a viable career opportunity.
“In order for a sustainable farm to exist you need to have a sustainable business.” – Benzi Ronen, CEO and Founder of Farmigo.
About three years ago Benzi Ronen launched Farmigo, a technology startup that develops software that allows organic farmers to more efficiently manage their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Farm Direct sales operations. Ronen has a technology background and prior to Farmigo, he spent 14 years building internet systems for large multi-national companies around the world.
Venture investment in agriculture startup companies is not yet commonplace, but J.M. “Jim” Schultz, Founder and Managing Partner at Effingham, Illinois-based Open Prairie Ventures, believes wholeheartedly that it soon will be. So as to be a front runner and not a follower, in 2008, Open Prairie Venture’s launched one of the first early stage venture capital funds (OPV II, LP) to invest primarily in agriculture technology startups.
In fact, there’s an entire system – including a smartphone application – developed by ClimateMinder, a Glendale, California based startup company, that enables growers to wirelessly monitor environmental conditions in both greenhouses and open fields.
In the middle of a 72-acre apple orchard situated in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, agricultural entrepreneurship thrives. Ten emerging startup companies reside here charting paths for the commercialization of innovative agricultural products and technologies. This is The Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park, also known as the Technology Farm.