American Meat, the pro-farmer documentary that examines hog, cattle and chicken production in the United States is coming to Washington State. [...] We are interviewing young farmers in each of the 10 locations we travel to... creen the film and were wondering if you would be interested in being part of our Video Series in Washington.
To give you an idea what some of these videos look like here are links to Young Farmer Videos from Missouri and Iowa:
We are interested in finding both conventional and alternative farmers in Washington while we are there from November 12th - November 19th. If you are or can point us in the right direction of young (under 35) farmers that might be interested we would greatly appreciate it.
Through this series we hope to inspire and help generations to come who are thinking about farming as a career."
This is something that I've run into many times. The local food movement seems to have a fascination with young farmers. Here they're pretty explicit about it -- if you're over 35, they'd rather not hear from you. I like that honesty. It's nice when it's clear. Most of the time it's just implicit.
So I watched the two videos (links above) and both of the people there were what I call inherited land farmers. The fellow in missouri is farming land his grandfather bought in the 1970s, and the guy in iowa is working on his dads farm.
Take home lesson: You can only farm if you inherit your land.
Farming, at the scale that you can make a living off your farm, requires money. Depending on the type of farming you do, it can take quite a bit of money -- Tim, over at Natures Harmony, has spent the better part of a million bucks setting up his farm. He hates it when I say it, but it's true. He's milking less than 20 cows. I don't see how he'll ever make a profit, but I guess writing books will help.
I use him as an example of a fellow who wants to farm and didn't inherit his land. His solution? Go make a million bucks somewhere else and use that money to start his farm.
So lets look at the Missouri guy again. How about we interview grandpa about how he got the money to buy that land, and what the challenges were, and see what he has to say about becoming a farmer. Clearly he's done well, and his son (and HIS son!) are still involved with farming. In this case, I think that grandpa is the hero. No fault to grandson -- I'm sure he works hard.
|John Deere model 210 disc|
I was looking for a disc and found one about a hundred miles away at a good price, and I made arrangements to go over and look at it. On arrival I met the farmer selling the disk, Irwin.
One of the questions I ask when I purchase equipment is why they're selling it, and Irwins answer was that he was not going to be farming any more. He's in his 70s I think, and he'd like to live closer to town. So he's selling his farm and equipment and retiring. The disc was in good shape, some cash and an handshake, and we had a deal.
To get the disc onto my trailer I had to take it partially apart, as it's 15' wide and about 12' deep, and while I was doing that Irwin and I talked about farming. He was selling the 60 acres we were on to one fellow, and another 60 acres to another fellow, and the third 60 acres to... you get the idea. Irwin was, by most definitions, a very successful farmer. So I asked him how he started?
"I was a civil engineer for the city of San Francisco". Whoa. You didn't inherit the land? "Nope, I bought this property in the late 70s, an d that in the 80s, and another in the 90s, and ..."
So you've been farming for the better part of 40 years now... I'm guessing that there were some times that weren't so good. "yea, the 80s really were bad. I had a tough time, and I had 4 kids in college, and it really made it hard, but we got through..."
Isn't that sort of the vision we have of an ideal farming life? Hard work, clean living -- supporting our family, and providing for them, and then being able to retire with a decent amount of comfort?
But there's that awkward part in the narrative. The part where you make enough money to be able to afford the land, and then work two (or three) jobs to keep it going. Your farm job, the town job, and the other job you take when that crop just doesn't work out -- like my friend Paul who's doing his best to make a go of his farm, but had to take that off-farm job to make ends meet.
There's reason that most farmers are over 35. It takes a while to amass the money to be able to get into farming, at least on land that you own. I'm a lot more interested in the story of people who make it on their own, and who don't inherit their land, or have land that "...has been in the family since we homesteaded it in 1887...", .
How about you show a realistic path that people can actually follow?
My great-great-grandfather, Samuel C. King was the largest landowner in Atchison county, Kansas in the 1890s. Very successful man, but over the next 120 years, the land was sold, and so when I was born there wasn't much of the original land -- I'm still entitled to a burial in the family plot in Mt. Pleasant, KS, but that's about it. By the way -- my great-great grandfather earned the money that he used to buy his land from his off-farm job. Funny how that works, eh?
Most people today who are interested in farming don't have the luxury of having the land handed to them, and no matter how much you wish, there's no such thing as the land fairy. But there is a tried-and-true way to get into farming.