Farming: The Next Generation

In farm communities around Minnesota, farmers are wondering who will carry on their work after they are gone. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture, the average age of farmers is rising. In 2007, the average age of farmers in Minnesota was 55.3, up from 49.6 in 1992.

Kristin Wilson, who works with 30 farm families through the Whole Farm Co-op in Long Prairie, said most of the farmers she works with are in their 50s and many do not expect to pass their farms on to offspring. She worries about the future of the state’s farms.

“I fear losing the real knowledge of farming the land as our small farmers age out of productivity,” said Wilson, the farm co-op’s internet sales manager. “Of all the farmers I work with, not one is recommending that their children carry on the work.”

David Greenley of Minneapolis grew up in a farming family but was never interested in becoming a farmer and his family didn’t encourage it. After serving in the military he earned a college degree and became a public safety officer.

Greenley, 31, is the first in his family to graduate from college. After his grandparents passed away, and his father retired, his cousin took over the farm but now rents out the land.

“It’s really hard to continue farming in my generation because it’s so expensive,” Greenley said.

Many farmers he knows need to have second jobs to make ends meet.

Efforts are underway to prevent the loss of farming culture and to address the issue of rising costs associated with starting a farm. One of these efforts is Farm Beginnings, a project of the Land Stewardship Project designed to help “launch the next generation of farmers” (MPR’s Ambar Espinoza reported on the program this summer).

If this program is any indication, the next generation of farmers will not come from those born into it.

Parker Forsell, program organizer in their southeast Minnesota Lewiston office, said only about a third of participants come from family farming backgrounds. The majority of participants either became interested in farming through school or want to start farming as a second career.

Farm Beginnings can train farmers from 40 potential farms each year. Interest has grown every year since it started 14 years ago. For the first time, this year it has a waiting list.

marie and family.JPGMarie Ljosenvoor is one of the few following in her family’s footsteps. The 26-year-old recently moved back to the small Maple Lake dairy goat farm that she grew up on. She’s taking over after her father’s off-the-farm job was transferred to Chicago. Ljosenvoor will keep her job as a pharmacist, as will her husband, a teacher. Burt they look forward to learning more about farming from nearby farmers.

The Ljosenvoors will also be adding a large vegetable garden they will use to primarily feed themselves. Most of the young farmers Ljosenvoor knows are in similar situations. They started farming primarily to feed themselves and then started selling Community Supported Agriculture shares to support their families.

For them and the other families farming is “not about money and more about stewardship of the land,” she said.

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