OLMSTEAD: Where have the young farmers gone?


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BY: Grace Olmstead

As Wendell Berry points out in Remembering and other books, the modern industrialized farm is isolating and stringently efficient, cutting the beauty, diversity, and community out of farming in favor of profit. Oftentimes, these “factory farm” methods necessitate a copious amount of chemicals, inhumane living conditions for livestock, and tasteless produce. This is not the farming of the future—and thankfully, more and more farmers have realized this. Young farmers (where they exist) are adopting more natural, holistic, old-fashioned methods in order to succeed. But sadly, many of these ideas are only being implemented on small farms: “boutique farms,” where the tiny scale makes their costs feasible.

While small farms are important, and most new farms will need to start small, we are rapidly losing America’s midsize farms. They are dying out on a weekly (if not daily) basis, sold by their aging owners—often to land developers, or to more industrialized competitors.

How can we bring the innovation of small farmers to midsize farmers? It could be that some of these aging farmers just need to retire, as Andrea Stone writes. But if there is no one to take their place, what will happen to their land? This is where up-and-coming aspirational farmers are so needed: to carry on the traditions of the past in a figurative sense, but also to bear up the responsibilities and goods of the land in a very literal sense. Unless we inspire a younger generation of farmers to take up the mantle of their forebears, we face a bleak and frustrating future in American agriculture.

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