Even though family farms are the foundation of life in North America, only six percent of farmers are under the age of 35, with the average farmer's being 57 years old. There simply aren't enough young farmers to replace the ones who will soon retire. In a slow but substantial movement, however, more young people are getting into agriculture, and the hardworking hands that have come forward are passionate not just about growing and harvesting food, but also about environmental responsibility.
Take, for example, Kara and Elaine. These two young women run a farm called Vibrant Valley on Oregon's Sauvies Island, and they're dedicated to their industry and committed to exploring innovative solutions to transform the current food system, both locally and on a larger scale. We met them early on a Friday for their morning flower harvest, then sat down afterwards to chat about their experiences as young female farmers. We hope you'll enjoy their stories and insights below.
Did you ever think you were going to become farmers?
Elaine: No, not really. Once I took Urban Farming at the University of Oregon, and that’s where it all started. I thought it would be great to work with plants, people and be outside, but I never thought I'd be helping to run an actual production farm. I wanted to grow more food for more people and felt confined in urban spaces. So we started farming. With time, Vibrant Valley Farm also organically grew into a fully functioning five-acre farm.
Kara: I have been inspired by growing food and working outside since I took the same urban farm course at University of Oregon. After the course, I spent years working in gardens, although it wasn't until a friend was starting a CSA program years ago [that I even considered] larger scale agriculture as an occupation. But, here we are now. We work to honor ancient traditions in growing food and connecting to the land, as well as helping to create healthier communities. We are partnering with local schools and youth projects to create mentorship programs, as well as green job training possibilities to accompany the hard work and dedication of growing food and learning from one another in a field setting.
What are the challenges of being a young farmer? Are there any specific challenges on being a young female farmer?
Elaine: The lack of knowledge and experience is definitely a challenge, but that’s also exciting and keeps things interesting. The lack of resources for tools and materials as a young farmer is another challenge. Regarding being a female farmer, we get a lot of assumptions that we're not actually running the farm or that we have a male telling us what to do, and we're just the faces of it. Not true, of course! When buying tools and supplies, we get a lot of "Can you lift that?" People are constantly surprised by how big and productive our space is and how much we work.
What do you love most about farming?
Kara: Being outside and working with the earth in unison is the foundation that built my career and keeps me loving my work. I love having the opportunity to share the literal fruits of our labor with family, friends and greater community members.
Elaine: I agree! I think being connected to the seasons and Mother Nature is my most favorite part. We also get to eat really well, go to amazing restaurants that use our stuff, be surrounded by beautiful flowers and be creative [by] designing bouquets and florals for weddings. We also are constantly experimenting with new crops like indigo, horseradish and chrysanthemums.
What keeps you going during harder times?
Kara: During times of loneliness, financial stresses and unbalanced market prices, I find that having the grounding experience of working with the earth and having such an honest living helps put the challenges in perspective. Having a couple years under our belt at this time gives us a noted perspective on our growth, which helps fuel the ego and ensure goal-setting and brainstorming are always happening.
Elaine: When struggling to find a balance or a little bit of time for other things when the season is really busy, I'm kept going when I see the positive impact we have on our community. I see people eating well and inspired to try new things.
Do you have any advice for aspiring young farmers?
Kara: The advice that I try to give myself and I would give others is to remember that many of us in this current culture of young farmers have chosen this career. Remembering this is important, so that we usher ourselves from being victims of the hard work and cultural shift. I would also encourage folks to start small and grow with your community and their needs. And lastly...take time away from the grind of daily farm projects. We need to find time that is separate to keep a balance.
p.s. Craving closer contact with nature? Try bringing the outdoors inside with these decor tips.