Top | Sift

Up on the farm

(article, Kim Carlson)

As the rhyme goes, farmers might be in the dell, but this month, they are also in the news — especially young farmers.

Gourmet features a story about the Farm Bill in its April issue, and although the piece gets a little wonky (as stories about that massive piece of legislation are wont to do), at its heart is the story of one South Dakota farm family who's growing lots of food on their 4,000 acres — all of it organic, and none of it corn. Matthew Stiegelmeier, a 25-year-old who's a sixth-generation farmer, prefers not to grow that heavily subsidized crop: “I’ve got a philosophical problem with growing corn. Most corn goes to livestock. I prefer to feed grain to people, and I prefer for cattle to eat grass.” 

(The piece is illustrated with a batch of nice photos of the Stiegelmeier farm, but only one of those made it onto the magazine's website, unfortunately.)

Another story about young farmers — this one heavily illustrated and accompanied by a multimedia piece — appeared March 16 in the New York Times' Fashion and Style section. While at least one person objected to the hipsters-turned-farmers depiction, the story does a nice job rounding up anecdotal evidence of New York City-area farmers who can still call themselves young.

For a more thorough look at the decline of young farmers on a national level, however, refer to an article published in Edible Portland last fall. Soon-to-be-farmer Zoë Bradbury uncovered some startling statistics: The average age of a U.S. farmer is 55, and the number of farmers under the age of 35 declined from almost 16 percent in 1982 to not quite 6 percent in 2002. 

As Edible Portland asked, "Who's going to grow our food when \[the current generation of farmers\] retire?" 

It's enough to put gray hair on any eater's head.