The average age of American farmers is nearly 60 years old. For every one farmer and rancher under the age of 25, there are five who are 75 or older, according to Agriculture Department statistics (see Huffington Post). This presents a dilemma for the owners of single family farms, particularly if there is not a younger family member interested in continuing the family tradition. Another conundrum is the fact that family farmers rely on the sale of their land to finance their retirement. Most young people do not have the financial resources to purchase land, much less to modernize the equipment. Some older farmers depend upon their own skills to make repairs and their equipment may be quite antiquated.
Thankfully, there is growing interest by the federal government and various other organizations in helping younger farmers overcome these hurdles (Young Farmers Coalition). We recently attended the 2015 Eco Farm Conference and were encouraged by what we heard. There are small grants and training opportunities available to help young people get started in farming (see here). There are also programs to help veterans find connections and resources to begin farming (Farmer Veteran Coalition).
We are in the unenviable position of needing to make the transition to a less-intensive lifestyle otherwise known as retirement. Unenviable because we do not want to do the easy thing and sell our land to a large corporate farming operation like several of our neighbors have recently done (see post). The alfalfa field and small dairy across the road to the west that belonged to our long-time neighbors and friends was sold and is being prepared for planting Almonds. The family farm to the east of us across the ditch was sold and the nectarine and plum trees were removed. At least they are planting more fruit trees – Apricots.
You may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to help. We suggest donating to organizations such as those mentioned above that are dedicated to preserving single family farms and farmland. The American Farmland Trust is another organization you might look into supporting. They are in the beginning stages of helping farmers such as us make the transition to a less-intensive lifestyle. We love what we do, but need to scale-back so that we can enjoy other of life’s pursuits while we still are able to do so.