It’s something we don’t talk about enough – who the hell is going to feed Australia in fifty years?! Maybe it’ll be a bunch of drones. For now though, it’s going to be young farmers – but they’re a tiny part of the farming community. It’s why groups like Future Feeders exist – to support young farmers find their feet as they face the double-whammy challenges of being young, and wanting to farm in healthier, but less conventional ways.
Joel Orchard of Future Feeders talked to us to share the challenges but also the strengths young people bring into farming.
What do you personally grow?
I have a little market garden for a CSA, and I work on a Ecological Banana farm, an Organic Avocado farm and at the local community gardens.
When you grow with permaculture principles and ‘food-scape” your environment there is food everywhere!
I basically don’t shop for fresh produce any more and eat what ever I grow that is in season!
We often hear that the average age of a farmer in Australia keeps going up – why do you think this is?
Farming is super rewarding but it’s a huge challenge. The family farm model has slowly faded and young people don’t stay on the farm, inherit the land and the business to continue farming. Access to farm land is getting harder for new farmers. Land prices are going up, farmland gets pushed further away from the population through urban sprawl and the upfront costs of starting a farm are prohibitive. The commodification of food, globalization, way too many hard years and a broken food system also means farmers continuously get a raw deal.
But it’s time for change and many people are seeing the virtue in moving back to the land to grow food organically, for short chain – localized food systems and supporting their communities.
Yikes, that doesn’t sound too great! Surely that’s a massive missed opportunity – what about the strengths that young people bring to farming?
Young people do bring a awesome range of skills to farming that the older generation of farmers didn’t have. Young people are super connected, and connecting people to the food on the farm is where it’s at. But we have heaps to learn and having a farming mentor is such an advantage.
I feel like farming collaboratively, keeping networked and sharing resources, skills and labor will help support more young people back into farming. Let’s grow together.
That’s pretty ace! So what are some of the most common misconceptions about farming?
Its not glamorous: we all love the lush veggie pictures, perfect vistas and farmscapes that file through our social media feeds. But farming is mostly dirt, sweat, blisters and exhaustion.
Haha – so how did most of the farmers in your network get sucked in?
I think everyone comes to farming in their own way. I came to farming from science but it’s amazing the diversity of pathways that lead people to farming: electricians, teachers, academics, anyone. But bring your skills to the table! A farmer needs to be a jack of all trades – mechanic, social media marketer, book keeper, vet, soil scientist…
Ok, so what advice would you offer as a first step to a total farming newbie who wants to try farming?
It’s much more than a job.
Look for opportunities to volunteer at your local farm, go wwoof’ing, do internships, or go do some seasonal work. Get into it. You really have to go out there and give it a go.
Get a sense of the sort of farming operation that interests you. Start small, grow things you love to eat, get chickens and throw away your TV.
What about the other young farmers in your network – how are they doing things differently and why?
Organics is becoming the norm instead of chemical agriculture, and small scale intensive polyculture food production systems instead of large monocultures. Soil sensitive farming, regenerative animal grazing systems, reduced food miles.
Increasing fertility, repairing the soil, improving the ecosystem and growing food with natural disease resistance and superior nutrition are the new goals.
What do you think is holding this kind of sustainable agriculture back from being the norm?
Food prices are artificially deflated and corporate control over food distribution is both dangerous to our food security and crippling the development of the sustainable food industry.
But food affects and connects us all. People are starting to see the links between their health and the way food is farmed. Healthy food grown on healthy farms means healthy people. So many of our social, economic and environmental problems start on the plate. Helping educate the consumer, making local food more accessible through farmers markets and other direct to consumer models like CSA will help people get past a convenience culture addiction.
Image credit: Joel Orchard