Author: Danielle Nierenberg | Published: March 2017
Today, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture released Letters to a Young Farmer, a book which compiles insight from some of the most influential farmers, writers, and leaders in the food system in an anthology of essays and letters.
The United States is on the cusp of the largest retirement of farmers in U.S. history, with more farmers over the age of 75 than between the ages of 35 and 44. Letters to a Young Farmer aims to help beginning farmers succeed through advice and encouragement, while inspiring all who work in or care about the food system. Among the 36 contributors to the book are thought leaders Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan, Dan Barber, Temple Grandin, Wendell Berry, Rick Bayless, and Marion Nestle. I was honored to contribute to the book as well!
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a nonprofit sustainable agriculture organization with a mission to create a healthy and sustainable food system that benefits all. The organization trains farmers, educates food citizens, develops agroecological farming practices, and convenes changemakers through programs such as a Summer Institute for High School Students and a two-day Poultry School conference.
Food Tank spoke with Jill Isenbarger, CEO of Stone Barns Center, about Letters to a Young Farmer, the need to encourage young farmers, and hope in the future of the food system.
Isenbarger says “we created this book to give voice to farmers and illuminate the choices that can lead to a stronger future, for them and for all of us who eat. It reminds us that farming has always been a political act. These young farmers, who choose to farm rather than go into law or medicine or finance—they are taking a stand; they are expressing their commitment to the land, to their communities, to the food movement.”
Food Tank (FT): Why do young farmers need encouragement?
Jill Isenbarger (JI): Farmers are becoming an endangered species. The number of farms and farmers continues to shrink, and farmers are aging off of the land at an alarming rate. The average age of a farmer in the United States is 58.3 and climbing, and only six percent of farmers are under the age of 35.
Young farmers need encouragement because our society doesn’t value them the way they should be valued. “You’re just a farmer” is the common refrain. Barbara Kingsolver, Wendell Berry, and Bill McKibben all write about this in the book. We’ve also lost many agricultural traditions based on community, a common history of stewardship and hard work.