Young farmers unite

These days, farmers tend to be young or old.

There aren't too many middle-agers going at it with plows and feedbags.

That's because commercial farming largely took over the business until recently, when more folks became interested in eating local, sustainable food.

Oregon is one place that's attracting loads of new farmers, mostly people in their 20s and 30s who are going back to the basics. They're helping out on small farms, harvesting crops by hand and eschewing pesticides or genetically modified organisms.

They're the next generation of farmers and they give me hope.

The New York Times ran a story Saturday about the new generation of farmers emerging in Oregon. The story follows several 30-something farmers in Corvallis who are raising chickens, growing heirloom beans and shelling corn.

The farmers gather for weekly yoga classes and potlucks at the Mary's River Grange Hall.

Here in Ashland, I've met several young farmers who are learning the ropes from older growers in the hopes of one day having land of their own.

Last growing season, my friend Karen, an herbalist, woke up at dawn and rode her bike every day to the Happy Dirt Veggie Patch on the outskirts of town.

Someday, she wants to grow a variety of herbs on a farm and use them to help treat patients.

Meanwhile, my friend Daniel moved to Ashland from New Jersey in late 2009 to study farming.

"I've got all these projects I want to start working on," he wrote on his blog,, in October 2009. "I want to start designing and building the garden ASAP, including raised beds, cold frames, greenhouse, self watering containers, collect plenty of organic matter for making compost, want to make a worm composting bin and get some mushroom kits started. And that's just the beginning!"

Previously, he spent several months volunteering with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. His last stop was an apprenticeship at Ashland's Restoration Farm, where he studied permaculture.

Someday, he wants to have a permaculture farm that will enable him to survive off the land and sell produce at the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market. (Ashland's market resumes Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the National Guard Armory, 1420 E. Main St.)

Both Daniel and Karen are in their late 20s and are committed to learning traditional farming methods, while utilizing helpful new technology.

The problem is, their mentors won't be around forever. The average age of farmers nationwide is close to 60, according to a 2007 Census of Agriculture report cited in the Times story.

The young farmers need ways to connect with each other and with older growers. That's why I was so inspired to read that the Corvallis farmers gather at their grange hall to share homegrown food, music and wisdom.

Ashland's Bellview Grange closed late last year, but organizers are working to reopen it. Wouldn't it be cool if it once again became a community center for farmers and the folks who eat their food?

Today's new farmers want to learn from the old.

"What's new in organic farming?" Daniel wrote on his blog. "Nothing is new in organic farming. The basic principles have been practiced for over 10,000 years. ... So when people ask me what's new in organic farming, I tell them there is nothing new under the sun. If anything, we have most certainly lost countless amounts of knowledge and experience related to living in harmony with the planet."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or

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