Back in the ‘80’s, farms dotted the landscape, particularly here in New England. But then a recession hit, and crop and land prices suddenly fell, making it difficult for small operators to earn a living from the land. Farmers began to encourage their children to seek easier, more predictable lives – ones off the farm. This has lead to a Missing Generation of Farmers.
As their children moved away from the farm, there was no one to succeed the aging parents, and since many other young Americans were moving to cities for jobs, there was no one to sell the land to. Land went into fewer and fewer hands, with larger holdings or it was sold into development.
Decades later a realization has finally been made that there is a missing generation of farmers, where food production has largely been ceded away from small families, and into large, agri-business operations. Land prices, particularly outside urban areas, have become exorbitant. But moreover, the daisy chain that led from one generation to the next of people who knew how to produce food locally from land that was their own has been broken.
Today, the average age of dairy farmers in the northeast and across the country is approaching, or exceeding, 60 years old. Stonyfield is helping turn this around, particularly since we’re aware that the challenges are even greater for young organic dairy farmers that are just starting out.
In 2016, we helped found the Organic Dairy Farmer Training Program at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport, Maine. Through this first-in-the-nation program, apprentice farmers learn all aspects of organic dairy farming, from how to manage herds and milking operations, to business planning and equipment operation and repair.
You too, can take part in reviving the country’s farming sector. Here are some simple ways to make a difference: