So I want to be a farmer. Nothing fancy. A flock of sheep, some fields of hay, a few humble acres. I'm not ashamed to admit that it's a personal goal for my future workplace to be littered with feces. But what can I say? I'd rather be outside knee-deep in sheep excrement than indoors screen-deep in emails. If I can pull it off, in the next few years I plan on moving into the world of full-time sustainable farming.
I've always assumed there were lots of young folks like myself out there, milling about desk jobs, secretly wishing they could be out in a field with rams or snap peas. But recently I realized how alone I am in this dream. Sure, there are plenty of twenty-somethings that like their horses and don't mind collecting eggs from backyard flocks, but those of us who want to take our careers onto tractors aren't exactly common. Actually, we're a dying breed.
The deeper I get into the research the more I realize how crippling this could be for our local food situation. Small sustainable farms are disappearing from our hometowns, and so are the farmers.
You might balk at this statement. If you live in a rural area you might drive past a dozen small farms everyday on your way to work. I do too, but they aren't farmers who are making a living off their land and supplying co-ops and grocery stores with good food. They're small homesteads, hobby farms, or retirees who took a liking to dairy goats as entertaining lawn ornamentation. The actual food making small farm (grossing net profits under $250,000 a year) is becoming a white whale. Those farms are being replaced by industry giants. Operations so large in scale the animals and acres are larger than the population of most towns here in Vermont.
The small guys can't compete, and the quality suffers. You know the song, it's a sad one.
Another scary point to bring up to all you locavores out there is you might be running out of enablers. The people planting those heirloom tomatoes at your local farmer's market are getting older and older. The National Agricultural Statistical Service posts the average age of farmers in America is over 55 years old. A daunting thing to realize.
All of this might not be a big deal to the average consumer. But it should be, because growing safe food might be the single most important job in the world. And we need people to keep doing it. If no one wants to farm anymore, and the average current farmer has a AARP card, we're in big trouble.
I'm hopeful that the future farmers and ranchers of America will step up to the plate and keep providing organic meat, grains, and vegetables for the ever-growing green demographic. As the mainstream head turns towards weathervanes and away from feedlots - people might start to notice the growing scarcity of local organic foods. A scary thought, so let's do our best.
For more on one girl's agri-dreams, come to the farm: COLD ANTLER FARM