Sustainability is in the news nearly every day. We talk about sustainable agriculture, sustainable energy, sustainable practices, and sustainable finances, but what about our most precious resource of all — the next generation?
In the United States, the average age of farmers is 57 years old and the trend is increasing. Many farmers manage their operations in a way to improve the natural resources and biodiversity so that the future generations may benefit. As all the farmers retire and their children leave the farm, who is going to be left to run it? The developers?
What can we do as farmers and ranchers? There is no greater need and no better time than now to encourage and cultivate the next generation of farmers. The first way is help young people discover their connection to the land and to their food. Ideally, this should begin at an early age.
Introduce your own children, grandchildren, and neighbors to life on the farm. Encourage them to take part in farm activities. Give them the responsibility of caring for the garden or animals. Don’t simply give them chores. Teach them what you are doing and why. Involve them in the vision of the farm and decision-making.
Bring your message to other children and adults. Talk to a local teacher about coming to school and presenting what you do and why it is important. Speak at an event and/or put up an educational display. See if you can donate food for a meeting or event. Bring a farm animal to school or some other event for a visit and to talk about it. Have a petting zoo. Donate the use of an animal to spend the summer in a local park for visitors to enjoy. Show your animals or produce at the local fair and be there to engage children and other people in conversation about it. Some events provide the opportunity to “meet the farmer”.
Produce a value added product and sell it at the farmer’s Market or at a local store. Hold an event at the store so people can meet the farmer who produced the food or other product. Give out samples.
Bring kids to the farm. Host a field day or school field trip. Make it “hands on” so they can experience what farm life is like. Create a farm stand. Mentor a young person. Let them keep and animal or small garden on your place. Sponsor a youth market animal project. Support FFA, 4-H, and other youth activities. Have a judging contest.
These are only a few ways to help create that important connection among people, their food, and the land. If that connection is nurtured and the “value” of the farm, ranch, and food is established, then more young people will consider staying on the farm, thus creating a sustainable future for all of us!