Young and first-time farmers must become the saviors of the nation’s agricultural heritage, but they need help, the western organizer of the National Young Farmers Coalition said Wednesday.
Kate Greenberg delivered the message to Green Business Roundtable lunch attendees at the Strater Hotel on the 13th anniversary of the group’s first repast.
Young and first-time farmers face daunting challenges, Greenberg said. They must take the place of the current generation of farmers and ranchers, whose average age is 58.3 years nationally, 58.9 years in Colorado.
Only 6 percent of agriculturists in the country are younger than 35, she said. In between censuses in 2007 and 2012, 20 percent fewer people began farming in Colorado.
In the next 25 years, 400 million acres of agricultural holdings will change hands, Greenberg.
Young and first-time farmers and ranchers can step into the breach, but it will tax their determination, Greenberg said.
The National Young Farmers Coalition was founded in 2010 in the Hudson Valley north of New York City by three young people eager to get into farming but facing long odds.
Young Farmers today has 1,200 dues-paying members and 25 chapters in 26 states. Colorado has three chapters.
Newcomers to agriculture today face the same challenges as the Hudson Valley trio, Greenberg said. It’s particularly difficult to get a foothold in the West, she said.
Agricultural land is widely dispersed, it’s expensive, and water is scarce, Greenberg said. Adding to the burden is finding financial backing and finding support in the nation’s capital.
The role of the National Young Farmers Coalition is to support the effort of newcomers with training, education, access to land and financing, and to build public support.
Farmers markets are evidence of a change in the type of food consumers want and how they want it produced, Greenberg said.
“We have to go beyond voting with our dollar and start addressing significant infrastructure barriers to success that young farmers face,” she said.
The public can help further with buy-local campaigns, corporate sponsorships and simply by saving water, Greenberg said.
This story has been updated to correct errors, including the average age of farmers in Colorado and to say the National Young Farmers Coalition was founded by three young farmers. Kate Greenberg said it’s necessary to go beyond voting with our dollars to address infrastructure barriers to young farmers’ success.