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.
Seeing Opportunity for Local Food and Farmers, Entrepreneur Seeks to Launch Food Co-op in Riverside CASeptember 25, 2013 | Trish Popovitch
A few years ago former Air Force veteran and commuter student, William Cobb, saw an opportunity to create a food cooperative in Riverside, CA. It was the combination of rich farmland and densely populated urban/suburban areas along with the absence of a sustainable and local food culture in Riverside that first caught Cobb’s attention. So, In 2010, he decided to move to Riverside permanently and began selling residents on the idea of a cooperative business model. They listened.
In 2011, the Riverside Food Co-op was formed. This grass roots effort to create a member owned local produce grocery store is quickly moving from a small endeavor into a community changing force for good.
“I feel like a food cooperative is the most basic kind of thing in the alternative economic and even food system paradigm that I was missing living here,” shares Cobb. Growing up in California, food cooperatives can become pretty ubiquitous.
The Santa Monica Farmers Market is celebrated throughout metro Los Angeles as perhaps the best, most family-friendly and most diverse of markets in the county. Launched in July, 1981, the beachside town’s farmers market began with a mere 23 vendors. Since then, it has grown to include some 85 farmers from as far north as the Oregon border all the way down to Tijuana, and has expanded to run four days a week in three different locations across the city.
Laura Avery has been running the market almost since its inception and said she has been feeding her own family, her children and her grandchildren on the bounty found in the colorful market stalls.
“We started this market through a program then administered through the California Food and Agriculture Department, and they went out and recruited farmers for us,” Avery said. “It’s thanks to Jerry Brown, who was governor then and who passed the Retail Marketing Act that allowed us to operate, even though all the big retailers and shippers were totally against it.”
While local is a buzzword that businesses are trying to seize and use – think of McDonald’s Washington State billboards that bragged about local potatoes – Healthy Living Market gives more than lip service to the term. This independent grocer recently opened a second 35,000 square foot store. Located in Wilton, New York, just north of Saratoga, “Healthy Living Loves Local” is their summer campaign, and also, a part of their mission and practice.
“I was tasked immediately to go find producers who were local,” said Lyndsay Meilleur, general manager at the new location. “I would hang out at farmers markets, and I shamelessly passed out business cards.”
David Little of The Little Organic Farm in Petaluma, Calif. first began farming to help some childhood friends nearly 20 years ago. He had been working as a contractor and hated it so when his buddies inherited a couple ranches he jumped at the chance to head for the country and try something new. He stayed on for about a year before striking out on his own with a few acres of potatoes. Today, Little farms over 60 acres of land in plots scattered around Marin and Petaluma.
Jake’s Country Meats is more than just a pig farm—it is a family legacy. After six generations of raising pigs in the Michigan countryside, the Robinson family has developed a special connection to the land and remains dedicated to their mission of bridging the gap between food production and consumption.
According to the Robinson’s youngest daughter Renee, her father, Nate Robinson, has pig farming “in his blood” and he does a top-notch job of raising his Heritage breed pigs on pasture.
Renee, who came back to work on the farm after earning a degree in Marketing from Western Michigan University, takes part in all aspects of the family business.
Cattle farming is just about as far apart from aquaponics as you can get, but for one family in Devine, TX, the switch from one to the other was the logical choice.
“We wanted to utilize our small acreage for something that my husband and I could both work on. We wanted a business that we could capitalize on without having to go too far from our home, and we wanted to make it sustainable.”
Peggy and Richard Scott had been classic Texas cattle ranchers for over a decade, but more frequent droughts and a desire for change pushed them in a new direction.
Sierra Valley Farms has found that by being open to new ideas, keeping farming practices simple and diversifying its products, farming sustainably can be successful and rewarding, according to owner Gary Romano.
“I’m a third generation farmer,” Romano says. “My family were flower growers in the Bay Area. My mom’s side of the family were cattle ranchers in the Sierra. When I was a kid growing up, I was raised on the flower farm. We did it the old-fashioned way—allowing cover crops to grow, hand weeding—the natural way. I took that model to use here and it works.”
In 1990, Romano bought the last 65 acres of his family’s ranch, located in the high Sierra of Plumas County, California and decided to turn it into a farm. It was a three-year process for Sierra Valley Farms to become Certified Organic, the only organic farm within 100 miles, according to Romano.