Support for young farmers continues to grow
By Heather Thorstensen
Date Modified: 03/15/2012 10:56 AM
LA CROSSE, Wis. — What will stand out to Faye Jones most about the 23rd annual Organic Farming Conference is the enthusiasm of young people who want to farm.
"Just the fact that young people want to come back to the land," said Jones, executive director of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
MOSES hosted the largest organic farming conference in the nation Feb. 23-25 in La Crosse. Attendance of more than 3,300 people set a new record.
Jones said 200 to 300 people registered as young farmers.
MOSES and Renewing the Countryside are supporting young farmers through their Young Organic Stewards project. It is partially funded by the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
YOS is for anyone 18 years old and older who considers themselves a young organic steward and is interested in organic and sustainable farming.
The mission is to help young farmers connect with each other, inspire them and to share opportunities for them to learn and build their network to become successful.
Workshops specifically for YOS were held during the conference for the second year. This is the first year that the project will expand beyond the conference. It will highlight field days, workshops and other events for young farmers.
A social networking website was launched the week of the conference at www.youngorganicstewards.org. YOS members can also connect on the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/YoungOrganicStewards and on Twitter @Farmerninja.
The group's logo is a ninja leaping in the air and brandishing a hoe.
Lindsay Rebhan, YOS organizer, said she is hearing that young people want to farm to connect with the environment, avoid a job in a cubicle and make a living while pursuing their passion.
"People don't see it as something to run away from but something of returning to your roots," said Wes Hannah, an organizer for the National Young Farmer's Coalition.
With the average age of farmers reaching 57 years old, it's important to support the next generation as they transition to farming, said Hannah.
The coalition released a report in November 2011, called "Building a Future with Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young, American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help Them Succeed." It is based on a survey from 1,000 young and beginning farmers about what they need.
The report found that major obstacles for beginning farmers include a lack of access to capital, affordable farmland and health insurance. Supportive programs such as apprenticeships, Community Supported Agriculture and partnerships were the most helpful to them.