California’s San Luis Obispo County has a plethora of microclimates that enable farmers to produce a great variety of crops. Promoting a local food culture that takes advantage of that diversity and abundance is the mission of Central Coast Grown, a San Luis Obispo-based non-profit organization that strives to build awareness, production and consumption of locally grown food by conserving farmland and supporting young farmers and urban farming.
According to the organization’s executive director Jenna Smith, Central Coast Grown works to conserve land currently in agricultural production, as well as to educate the public about food and its origins.
“We want the sustainable agriculture movement to grow in San Luis Obispo County,” Smith says. “Agriculture is the top industry in the county. We want to promote local food literacy among the community.”
When Casey Houweling traveled to Tactic, Guatemala in the summer of 2012, he saw firsthand the poverty, illiteracy, and hunger faced by the people in a country torn by decades of civil war. Houweling, President and CEO of Houweling’s Tomatoes, made the trip at the behest of his daughter Rebecca, a nursing student who had served there alongside the staff at a school run by Impact Ministries.
Rebecca was convinced that Houweling’s Tomatoes had the resources to help improve life for Tactic’s residents. Houweling had his doubts, however.
Last month, the National Young Farmers Coalition released Conservation 2.0: How Land Trusts Can Save America’s Working Farms. The report finds that a primary threat to new farmers is acquisition of protected farmland by non-farmers who allow it to go fallow. To gather research for the study, the NYFC interviewed 200 U.S. land trust leaders. One-quarter of those surveyed said they have witnessed a decline in production at conserved farms resulting from non-farmers purchasing land at prices with which farmers cannot compete.
Founded by three farmers in New York’s Hudson Valley who struggled to find reasonably priced land, NYFC is an organization dedicated to supporting new farmers through education, networking, and advocacy.
Access to land is one of the most formidable obstacles facing young people who want to start a farm, according to a 2012 study by the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. The study notes that the price of farmland doubled between 2000 and 2010 in the United States.
A nonprofit organization in Bellaire, Michigan, the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design, or ISLAND, is working to address this problem with a new farmer residency program that will launch in spring 2014. The program operates in partnership with the Grand Traverse Land Conservancy, a local land trust that owns the 11-acre property the residents will farm.
Though you might find some millennials paying their dues in entry-level office jobs, increasing numbers of “agri-preneurs” in their twenties and thirties are opting for a more independent, agrarian lifestyle by establishing small, sustainably managed farms.
In many cases, these new farmers are the first in their families to choose farming as an occupation. Starting a farm is no guarantee that it will prosper, and many enterprises fail. Without a strong family background in farming or a community to rely on, young farmers’ chances of success are diminished.
Brought together by a shared love of sustainable agriculture, Lars Prillaman and Leslie Randall launched 8.5-acre Green Gate Farm in the small, historic town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Prillaman and Randall see agriculture not as an efficiency and profit-maximizing endeavor, but as an intricate process guided by natural cycles, ethical responsibility, and community enrichment, and work hard to maintain a farm that realizes their vision of what agriculture should be.
That being said, these young, new farm owners have been tremendously successful for a first-year start-up.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about making money doing it,” says Prillaman, “If I didn’t make money doing it I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Thus far, the pair runs a thriving CSA which currently has a wait-list for next season, sells to a popular local restaurant, has tables at two farmer’s markets, and has received accolades from established farmers who are impressed and astonished with their first year success.
An Ohio native who moved to the bright sunny state of Southern California, Jeff Mott decided his life had a different purpose. That purpose meant leaving behind the SoCal lifestyle, buying an Amish homestead on the Virginia/Ohio border and initiating a lifestyle change that has not only proven to be profitable, but has also changed his entire perspective.
35 miles outside of Wheeling, West Virginia lies the Mott Family Farm, the Ohio-based haven of two former California residents, Jeff and Shelley Mott, who craved a back to basics approach to life, a slowing down of pace and an opportunity to share a love of growing that began in California. Land prices and moving closer to Jeff’s father were only part of the equation. Mott felt his California lifestyle was missing a sense of community.
Alex McPhail and Casey McAuliffe founded Moon Dog Farms, in Santa Fe, Texas, in January 2013. Since arriving at the farm, McAuliffe and McPhail have worked quite hard – the farm’s land hadn’t been touched in years.
Although the co-owners were originally from Texas, the two left the state a few years ago to work various jobs at small, organic farms. At first, McAuliffe and McPhail worked on an organic farm in upstate New York. While the farmers were in New York, McPhail’s family approached the duo about buying some land his family owned. “They told us they had a plot of land [that had] essentially been neglected for the past 15 years,” McAuliffe said.