Sponsored by Oregon Business

Planting seeds for younger farmers

| Print |  Email
Articles - March 2011
Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Farmers under the age of 35 make up only 4.2% of Oregon farmers. A 15-year project hopes to educate and train the next generation.

A new food initiative by Multnomah County hopes to bring young farmers into an industry that is starved for youth.

“Currently, farmers under the age of 35 make up [only] 4.2% of state farmers,” says Michele Knaus of the nonprofit Friends of Family Farmers.

The 15-year project aims to improve local food systems. The plan, which has more than 65 initiatives, includes the creation of a new farming incubator to educate and train new farmers.

“Multnomah County is a fantastic convener [of ideas]; we have the credibility and the energy that helps bring all the important parties to the table,” says commissioner Judy Shiprack. “The whole idea of having an incubator that would raise up a new generation of farmers came from that table.”

The program will bring together individuals interested in farming with retiring farmers looking to pass on their skills as well as looking to lease or sell their land. An apprenticeship system will teach new farmers not only the agricultural skills but also the business skills crucial to making a farm successful.

According to Knaus, up until the creation of this plan, people interested in farming were being derailed because of difficulties in finding access to land, capital or small-business loans.

“I think that it’s positive that people might be interested in this kind of work. Here is this program that shows them how to do it,” says Shiprack.

The consumer demand for locally sourced food was another inspiration for the plan.

“If food isn’t a part of our local community, we lose a lot,” says Knaus.



Ryan McLaughlin
0 #1 Great idea, but a bit idealistic.Ryan McLaughlin 2011-03-24 12:26:16
I have seen programs like this in other states, and frankly, while well-intentione d, the plan is overly idealistic. There are ample opportunities in the US for young folks to gain experience farming. As a 25 year old, I have many friends and colleagues who have spent time as farm interns or volunteering on farms. Education in farming and even farm management is abundant, and not at all a barrier to entry.

The barrier to entry is capital. It is well known that the average age of US farmers is increasing, having recently shot past 55. Unfortunately, until 2008, the price of land was doing the same thing. However, even post-crash, land is still unattainable for most aspiring young farmers.

Think about it, to step away from a career to learn to farm requires considerable savings or financial support from family. Once you've been educated, you still need to get land. Leasing is not an economically viable option long term, and buying is cost prohibitive to most young people. In fact, the people my age that I know who are farming have gotten into it from trust funds, family support, or from having family with large parcels of unused agricultural land that was easily converted back into production.

Bottom line, young people need capital more than they need education in farming. Unless these programs incorporate some mechanism to provide them with accessible capital, the program will never yield large scale returns. What we see instead is a trickle of youth into farming and a mass exodus of farmers into retirement, leaving their land to conglomerates or development.
Quote | Report to administrator

More Articles

Let it Rain

October 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015

This year has been so dry we were caught napping when it finally started to sprinkle. Hopefully you didn’t get caught in a downpour while eagerly awaiting — don’t deny it — our curation of Oregon-grown wet weather wear.


Tinker, Tailor, Portland Maker

November/December 2015
Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The artisan generation redefines manufacturing.


Salad Days

October 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015

How Portland's Garden Bar plans to become the Starbucks of salad.


The Food Pod Grows Up

November/December 2015
Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Oregon's first generation of food entrepreneurs created a brand based on quality and craftsmanship. Can the second generation sustain it?


Video: 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon 2015

The Latest
Monday, October 05, 2015
100-best-NP-logo-2015-video-thumbVIDEO BY JESSE LARSON

Profiling some of the organizations featured in the 2015 list.


There's a great future in plastics

Linda Baker
Friday, October 30, 2015
103115-lindachinathumbBY LINDA BAKER

This is a story about a small plastics company in wine country now exporting more than one million feet — 260 miles worth — of tubing to China every month.


100 Best Nonprofits: Working for equality inside and out

October 2015
Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Striving for social equity is the mission of many nonprofits, and this year’s 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon survey shows employees are most satisfied with their organizations’ fair treatment of differing racial, gender, disability, age and economic groups. But as a national discourse about racial discrimination and equity for low-income groups takes center stage, data show Oregon’s 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For still need to make progress on addressing these issues within their own organizations.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02