Growing Young Farmers

Ever have one of those phases where something not really in your consciousness suddenly pops up repeatedly?  Like when you buy a new car, and suddenly everyone seems to be driving the same model?   It’s been one of those times for me.

I had a leaning on the tailgate of the truck kind of conversation with a farmer friend a couple of weeks ago. About our farms, our friends, our families. Same old. Except that day he was not his usual optimistic self. He is a full time farmer, has been since he was 15, when his Dad died.  He loves what he does, but that day he expressed worry about whether he could keep it all going. He touched on the fact that all three of his kids are in college, planning futures that will not depend on farming as their livelihood, even though they all love the farm and are more than happy to help out as needed.   He also has a bevy of young lads who work for him throughout the summer season, loyal followers all, some of whom work for him sporadically through the winter as well.  He sees as few do around here, the need to inculcate the possibilities of future farming in the minds and hearts of young people, to show them that it can be done, in a huge variety of ways and scale.   He has a gift with young people, a kind of natural leadership that makes them keen to keep working for him.  He empowers, trains, builds confidence, builds skills, and generally grows these teenagers into responsible adults.  Will they be farmers, any of them?  He hopes so, so do I, but it’s hard to know.

pigs to processor 035

That was a couple of weeks ago.  Last week, our eldest daughter began discussing with us the possibility of starting a farm enterprise or two of her own, using the resources our farm can provide to save her some costs.  Now, I’m the antithesis of my tailgate friend.  I’m a micromanager, naggy kind of supervisor.  Ask any of my Navy subordinates – I have a t-shirt one class of trainees made for me that says “Mother Wren” across it.  Wren is an acronym from the Royal Navy short for Women’s Royal Naval Service, and it was at that time part of my rank designation, Master Wren (my male counterparts who were Master Seamen), and thus the shirt slogan was an allusion to my tendencies to mother hen them too much.

mama and chick 009 small

I’ve done all right as a mother; my characteristics fall into the “typical” category for the role. But as a mentor of a young adult?  I’m not most people’s first pick.  So I did what I’ve learned to do best as a mother of teenagers. I breathed calmly and thought before I spoke (this takes practice).  I remembered Salatin’s advice in Family Friendly Farming.  And I said, “Sure, absolutely, how can we help?”  More or less.  I’m a work in progress.  She has a lot of ideas, but the most immediate are that she wants to start a layer flock of her own to sell eggs, and she wants to raise veggies to sell at our roadside stand (which is currently a seasonal egg stand, but we’re talking future tense here).   From us she needs space for winter housing for her flock of 20 birds, and permission to run a chicken tractor on the field during the warmer seasons.  We’ve offered a third of our veggie garden space plus a little more in an unused flower bed for the veggies she wants to grow to sell.  It’s not a bad plan.  I don’t know if it will last, but she’s full of passion about it.  My job is not to throw any cold water or criticism or to say that she’s not doing it my way (the right way, obviously), but instead to be like my friend above.   Will this exercise grow a farmer?  I have no idea.

Skipper's Canyon near Queenstown, NZ

Skipper’s Canyon near Queenstown, NZ

Recently, our youngest daughter went to an awards ceremony at Government House.  She and two friends had been involved in a local initiative called Vital Youth through the school, wherein their team was given the responsibility of finding a local charity deserving of a $2500 donation.  They had a list of criteria the organization had to meet, and quite a bit of legwork in narrowing down to their best choice.  It’s an interesting concept, and I invite you to check out this link to learn more.  However, the point I want to make is that these three girls, after several weeks of work determined that a group called Growing Young Farmers was their favourite choice.  How cool is that?  Not one of these three girls is likely to be a farmer- two intend to pursue careers in the medical field, while one is a musician.  But at 15 and 16 years old, they recognize the work this awesome organization is doing and it’s importance for the future.

And then finally, I was catching up on emails after a nasty bout in bed with stomach flu and noticed that a blog I follow written by a young farmer in PEI, who has not been writing for the last six months or more had suddenly posted.  This is Barnyard Organics (For Love of the Soil in my sidebar), in the western part of PEI.  They are a young couple with 4 kids under the age of 8, one a newborn.  They are certified organic, grow grain, raise chickens, both layers and broilers, hogs and lamb, have recently built an on-farm, inspected poultry processing facility and do all this on a farm originally owned by Mark’s Dad, who still helps out a lot.  Sally, the blogger, is as passionate as they come in the Maritimes (which is pretty passionate), articulate and willing to speak her mind about what she believes in, all of which makes her a popular speaker at local farming and/or organic conferernces.  This particular post is one of her best, an excerpt of a speech she recently gave.  Here’s the link for you to read it yourself, which I urge you to do, because her topic is the Family Farm, and she focuses of course on growing young farmers.

pigs, blackberries, veg garden 026 small

clearing blackberries from future farmer’s future chicken house

In the week since I began drafting this post (this is clearly why my recent posts are so long, I’m writing them over several days :)), things have moved quickly.  My eldest is now officially on payroll, and has the sunburn and tired muscles to prove it and has taught the piglets to fist bump (they use their snouts).  My friend from the tailgate session is up to his ears in making hay, thanks to the 5 day run of sunny, warm weather.  He’s in full gear, running morning till night, making hay while the sun shines.  He’s got no time to think beyond the next weather forecast, let alone ponder the fate of future farmers.  But they’re out there with him, driving tractors, stacking bales, getting sunburned and building muscles.

All you can do is plant the seeds, nurture them as best you can and practice a lot of faith.




4 thoughts on “Growing Young Farmers

  1. df says:

    That is so great that your daughter is involved in Vital Youth! My first career was with community foundations and I was involved in managing the first website for Youth in Philanthropy in its initial incarnation and just generally surrounded by YIP in the day to day for a number of years. It’s such a great program and so good to see what it has grown into in different communities. I think it’s quite stunning that those three young women chose to support the group that they did; that is truly inspiring to know.

    This was a really thoughtful read and I appreciate the link to Barnyard Organics. What we’re doing can’t really be called farming (yet?), but I’m so aware of how one of my children seems to have a natural affinity and passion for what we’re trying to do on our land (you know who I’m talking about!), while the other clearly has no fundamental affinity for it, but is still a great help when asked (and, I hope, the exposure informs his life in other ways). So neat to hear how fired up your daughter is; sounds like you have a great recipe for supporting her and just watching how things unfold. I hope she has a great season building muscle and her own personal narrative in farming.

  2. Great post – not sure how I missed it though. I think Joel Salatin would be proud of you and your daughter. I hope she does well and takes to farming and in the process inspires some of her friends to do the same – we’re gonna need them!
    A lot of these kids will more than likely go off to college and the big city, but given the current climate I think a larger percentage of those will come back to the land sooner than our generation did. It seems that farming is pretty hip and cool these days and the internet is helping to promote that as well – which I think is another way that the young will be brought to farming.

  3. farmerkhaiti says:

    how awesome she wants to try and good work Mom! I feel those first entreprenurial efforts really go a long way to building a strong person, and maybe a farmer too!

  4. Yes, I think you’ve nailed it with the importance of entrepreneurialship (not sure that’s really a word). Whether farming is the end result or whether this is just a rung on a ladder of building skills toward some other way of spending her life, it’s all good.

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