We had the opportunity to spend some time this week with Orie’s Farm Fresh to learn more about what they grow, how they grow it, and how they eat it. We got a great recipe too that you can learn about near the end of the video!
Arguably the most rewarding way to commit to shopping local is by engaging with a local farmer through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. One online advocate for shopping and eating local, LocalHarvest.org, describes a CSA this way:
Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
Millennial farmers, especially first generation, not only hack their lifestyles in order to build sustainable farms and invest in their land, they also hack the technology they use to tend their fields. Though there have been many advances in the type of equipment and technology that farmers can utilize, sometimes using complex machinery can complicate the process more than help it. Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have been making, building, rebuilding, hacking, and tinkering with their equipment in order to make it more efficient at tending and harvesting crops (Wiens 2015). But with sustainability on the minds of many farmers today, additions like complicated computer systems installed in tractors can impede progress.
Hannah Becker, founding farmer of Willow Springs Farm in Franklin County Kansas, says that farm work is not for the faint of heart. Many full-timers also have “regular jobs” in the corporate sector in order to help pay the bills, feed their families, and purchase upgrades to help their agro food systems run more efficiently (Becker 2015). With the advent of new technology, John Deere has been producing top-of-the-line tractors since the early part of the twentieth century. This machinery helps farmers manage large acres of farm land allowing them to grow more crops and bring home more revenue. However, these advancements also come with frustration. Dave, a farmer in Ohio, wants to know how to do more than just change his tractor oil, but under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 he cannot tweak the computer system that controls the large apparatus (Wiens 2015). Under this proprietary law, if Dave changed the engine timing on his tractor he would become a criminal.
How do farmers get around this and still produce the food they need to in order be successful? According to Dorn Cox, a life-long agriculture enthusiast, “there’s an increasing number of farmers placing greater value on acquiring older, simpler machines that don’t require a computer to fix” (Wiens 2015). After taking a break from farming and working in the tech-startup industry, Cox took over a 250 acre farm and realized that he needed to help his fellow farmers adapt and take ownership of the tools of their trade. In 2010, he co-founded Farm Hack, an online community of farmers, designers, developers, and engineers who created an open source platform to help their community of farmers be better inventors and develop tools that fit the scale and their ethics of sustainable family farms (Gebhart 2015). Cox believes that “knowledge is free” and the Farm Hack community exists to release farmers from their dependence on factory machinery, encouraging them to rely on and contribute to a library of farming tools like low-tech farm bikes and remote controlled Arduino-powered compost monitors (Gebhart 2015).
Clearly, there is a generational difference between millennial farmers and their predecessors, almost all of the generation Y farmers are college educated and stem from a collaborative thinking community of hands-on training. Through experience they are learning that many of the tools they need to utilize are either too expensive or don’t exist at all. These farmers are hackers out of necessity. After all, new ideas often stem from mistakes and in a world where technology can improve almost anything it’s the collaboration that can help communities grow.
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Known as the kings and queens of self-branding, millennials are often seen as entwined with the evolution of the digital era. However, a very large number of them are hacking at a different calling, one that is moving them away from the comforts of their plugged-in lives to a life connected to the land. Young farmers today are not only college educated but they also care deeply about the environment and the impact that their lifestyle has on it (healthline.com 2015).
In our desensitized culture, millennials crave experiences that engage all of their senses (theatlantic.com 2015). However, being rooted in a culture that allows them to control the look and feel of their web profile but not know where the food on their table came from creates a debatable existence. Consumers today are a part of a new age food movement, one in which people are not only questioning what they are eating but also where it comes from. And millennials are demonstrating that they are not going to be spending their money on the processed foods shelved in supermarkets (theatlantic.com 2015).
Otherwise know as Generation Y, millennials grew up with recycling chores, thoughts of sustainability, and the realism of climate change. To step into the shoes of a millennial farmer means that you share core values and beliefs which include a de-industrialized food system; a system that helps individuals create cost-effective and healthy ways to grow food (greenvilleonline.com 2014). This system also connects local producers with consumers, helps build community and pride in local agriculture. With organic sales reaching $35 billion in 2013, this new generation of farmers sees the incentive in living and growing food more efficiently (healthline.com 2015). They are also restoring a revolutionary mindset and in turn reminding all of us of the benefits of living and working in an intimate relationship with the earth. Open range millennial farmers additionally have an unprecedented opportunity to share their unique foodie events across social media, thereby strengthening their distinct food producing brand.
Spanning various industries, this ethos is influencing everyone from butchers to shopkeepers. For example, a farm girl from Peabody, Kansas, stands poised to become a mentor to future entrepreneurs who hope to someday own local, sustainable businesses. Sharon Entz, owner of Crust & Crumb CO., operates her business with a strong work ethic, self-reliant attitude and diverse skill set that were all nurtured while growing up on a farm (kansas.com 2013). She studied flour production in college, but after graduation she quickly became disenchanted with the corporate world. Entz decided to combine her knowledge of flour and talents for baking and in 2013 she went into business for herself. Currently, she is producing freshly baked artisan loaves in her retail storefront located in Newton, Kansas, with regular deliveries to local retailers and farmers markets.
Mentorship is the key to not only encouraging young farmers but also in maintaining a strong network of resources needed to be successful. With organics moving from the fringe of consumer purchases to center stage, open range millennials not only have a future in farming and sustainable business ownership but are more than capable of continuing to forge new ground in our agricultural landscape.
ICT Food Circle challenges you to connect with local farmers by visiting our online Farmer Directory.
Photo credit: Pexels