The connection crackles slightly as I pick up the phone.
A couple thousand miles away in Oaxaca, Mexico where she is currently working on a Fulbright, Leah Penniman replies. Though I am nervous to speak with someone whose work I greatly admire, Leah’s humor and openness quickly puts me at ease.
Riverside, California, once known for a thriving real estate industry, was hit hard by the economic crisis of 2008. As more residents became dependent on soup kitchens and food bank use increased, lack of access to fresh local produce in the community became starkly apparent, despite the fact that the city is surrounded by thousands of acres of agricultural land.
That’s when UC Riverside graduate Fortino Morales convened fellow students to find space on the campus of University of California at Riverside for a community garden. Through the persistence of student volunteers, UC Riverside is now home to a three-acre community garden that isn’t only growing fresh food, it is growing converts to a Riverside local food movement.
In 2008, Greenbank Farm established its Organic Farm School to teach sustainable agricultural methods to students from all walks of life. The farm, located on Greenbank, Washington’s Whidbey Island, teaches agriculture methods and emphasizes how to manage a farm as a viable business.
Farm manager and instructor Jessica Babcock says the Farm School’s emphasis on business management is what sets it apart from other organic agricultural training programs.
“Each student leaves the program with an extensive business plan they have written that they can use to start their own sustainable farm business,” says Babcock.
Most modern-day Americans never consider a career in farming. They may see it as impractical, nostalgic, or even unnecessary in a world full of mass-produced, easily-accessible, and seemingly endless food options. But with the downfall of the family farm and the declining integrity of American agriculture as a whole, the need for the next generation of farmers has never been greater than in recent decades.
In 2000, New York’s Greenmarket co-founder Bob Lewis not only recognized this need, but saw a potential solution: New York’s vibrant immigrant population. Despite the lack of farming fervor in the U.S., the agricultural lifestyle still thrives in many countries. As a result, immigrants often come to the U.S. with a wealth of farming know-how and experience, but with no productive outlet for their skills.
Skip Connett, 57, is co-owner of Austin’s approximately 40-acre certified organic Green Gate Farms. The operation is a realization of a vision he had to cultivate a healthy farm that feeds mind, body and soul. He and his co-owner wife, Erin Flynn, 51, established Green Gate Farms in May 2006, five acres of which are in what was once a blighted neighborhood, eight miles east of downtown Austin, Texas. Another four to six acres of a 35-acre plot located 23 miles from downtown Austin are presently being developed with cover cropping, fruit trees and vegetables.
Skip, formerly a writer for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, saw firsthand the dilemmas of poor health and that, combined with a passion for organic farming, drove him to cultivating the soil.
Appleton Farms of Ipswich, Mass. is the nation’s oldest continually operating farm. Nine generations of Appleton’s have farmed the land since 1636. In 1998, the family donated the farm’s 1000 acres of farmland, pasture, and woodlands to The Trustees of Reservations, a non-profit land conservation organization that manages over 26,000 acres of land in 75 communities throughout Massachusetts.
“When we took over Appleton Farms from the family in 1998, the goal was not to compete with current farming operations, but to help support the momentum for local, healthy food and engaging the community and the public in a way to get people involved in land,” said Holly Hannaway, a spokesperson for Appleton Farms and The Trustees of Reservations.
Today, Appleton Farms supports a 550-share Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program, donates 10,000 pounds of food annually to local food pantries, trains farming apprentices to be able to establish their own farms, manages a year round dairy store, offers farm-to-table dinners and cooking workshops for kids and adults and maintains 12 miles of trail for recreational use.
Portland, Oregon’s Zenger Farm is striving to be a national model for urban, sustainable agriculture education while meeting the needs of people in its backyard: the low-income neighborhoods of Lents and Powelhurst-Gilbert.
The urban farm works to provide sustainable food and agriculture education, food access, and support for emerging food businesses in the area.
Though the farm is not currently certified, plans are underway to pursue organic certification within the next year, according to Sara Cogan, Farm Manager for Zenger Farms. Sustainable agriculture methods used on the farm includes drip irrigation, strict avoidance of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and creation of habitat to support diverse populations of beneficial insects.
“We believe the next wars are going to be over food and water. So who better to train than our military in water conservation and food production?” – Karen Archipley
Returning military often find themselves struggling to return to normality after serving overseas. Colin Archipley, co-owner of Archi’s Acres in Escondido, CA knows exactly how they feel. He served three tours of duty during the Iraq War that began in 2003. Between his second and third deployment, Colin, along with his wife Karen, bought an inefficiently run avocado farm. Besides starting their own very successful living basil hydroponics farm on the site, the empathetic couple created an incubator for transitioning veterans. What they created became known as the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training or VSAT program, a way to help veterans train for self-employment in the peaceful profession of hydroponic farming.