The National Young Farmers' Coalition has been formed to help young people get started in farming. "Without another generation of farmers, who will feed us?" the organization asks in its publicity materials. "In the U.S. today, for each farmer under 35, there are six over 65. One-quarter of these farmers are expected to retire in the next 20 years and two-thirds have no successors."
The NYFC offers peer-to-peer skill sharing, community, and networking, and policy advocacy. To guide its policy platform, the organization asks young farmers to take a 5-minute survey about the obstacles they encounter and the programs that would benefit them the most.
Joanna Letz is the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland. Both sides of her family were poultry farmers (in New Jersey and California). Her California Grandpa had a big garden, and was always growing things. Joanna just knew about growing plants from an early age. She’s got growing in her genes.
She was raised in Oakland, California, did a six-month program at University of California Santa Cruz in Agroecology, and worked at a number of famous California farms (Slide Ranch, Green Gulch, Amigo Bob’s place - Heaven and Earth Farm). Joanna took all this experience in farming and took the plunge in 2014 to start her own farm business. With no land and no equipment, Joanna had to find just the right opportunity to get things going.
If you’re thinking of farming, GFM writer Ellen Polishuk’s new book Start Your Farm is a great place to start. The excerpt below is a good explanation of the chemical properties of the soil for new and experienced growers alike.
Cation exchange capacity The best measure of a soil’s ability to hold nutrients is the cation exchange capacity (CEC). A CEC determination is part of any basic report from a soil testing lab. In the soil, many plant nutrients take the form of cations—positively charged ions (e.g., calcium, magnesium, and potassium). Silt, clay, and humus particles, conversely, are mostly negatively charged, which attract and hold those useful cations. Anions—negatively charged ions—are either not held at all (as in the case of some forms of nitrogen, boron, and sulfur) or held through complex chemical mechanisms (as in the case of phosphorus). These anions, which are quite mobile, are nutrients that should be added on an annual basis.
What does it take to launch a new farm business? Perhaps more importantly, what can communities do to ensure opportunities exist for the next generation of farmers? These are questions many of us in the farm world have been grappling with as the implications of too few farmers would have profoundly negative impacts to our food system, economy, natural resources, cities, and countryside. While there are significant efforts underway across the country to support the development of new growers, this article depicts the multi-organization farmer development efforts in Northwest Oregon.