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.