Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Next Generation of Farmers

The average age of a farmer in Placer County is 57+ - more than two-thirds of the farmers in our county are older than 65, while less than 5% are younger than 35. We seemed to have lost an entire generation to other professions.

Many factors have contributed to these demographics - the cost of land, lack of capital, the difficulty of the work involved, and low income from farming (among other things) are all part of the problem.

Our children, who are 11 and 5, participate daily in our farming operation. Both girls have their own small flocks of sheep. Both girls help take care of Yola, our dairy ewe. Emma cares for chickens and ducks as well.

While we've definitely sparked their interest in agriculture, I worry about the example I may be setting for them. The scale at which we are currently farming requires a great deal of work but does not generate enough revenue to justify hiring any help. Even with our 3 wonderful interns, I'm working 80-90 hours each week at the moment. Here's my worry: I am concerned that our kids will only see our farm as endless work at low pay for their father. Looking at farming through their eyes, I can't see why they'd choose it as a career. I've talked to other small-scale, full-time farmers who have similar worries.

So how do we deal with this problem? Do we need to achieve sufficient scale (and income levels) to hire help? Are there ways to be more efficient with our time? I'm very interested in what others might see as solutions!

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