In order to increase the availability and accessibility of local foods, we need local growers. There is far more demand for local organic foods in Western NC, than there is supply. Yet NC is losing farmers and farmland at a faster rate than any other state in the nation.
- The average age of farmers in WNC is 57, nearing retirement.
- Between 2002-2007 NC lost more than 6,000 farms and 600,000 acres of farmland – leading the nation in farmland loss.
- Between 2007-2012 NC lost 2,703 farms. 60% of farm losses are farms of 50 acres or less (smaller farms characterize WNC ag).
- Traditional methods of farm training and transfer have been lost over many generations as the children of farm families move away.
At the same time, thousands of modern young people are drawn to a land-based life. Who are these new farmers? According to John Ikerd’s analysis of the USDA’s census of agriculture in his article Who are the new farmers? which appeared in 2009 in Small Farm Today Magazine, along with his observation of them at conferences across the country, he interprets them this way:
- The new farmers are more likely to be women.
- The new farmers are likely to be sustainable farmers.
- The new farmers are likely to be more racially diverse.
- The new farmers are likely to be younger.
- The new farmers are different and they have a different vision for the future of American agriculture.
- The new farmers are often young people who have no experience or previous connection to farming, but still willing to work hard for little pay in on-farm internship programs to learn the art, science, and practice of real farming. What they lack in experience they more than offset in energy, enthusiasm, and commitment.
- Others are retired couples, many still in their 50s, who may or may not have grown up on a farm. They have decided to spend their “retirement” doing something they have always wanted to do.
- A few new farmers even have conventional farming backgrounds, but have decided that farming must change and they are going to help change it.
In order to rebuild a path towards agriculture in our region, we need to invest in the next generation of farmers. We not only need to invest in education for organic production, but in business training, micro-lending endeavors, support networks, and skill development for the complex practicalities of running a farm. The influx of aspiring commercial farmers is strong in Asheville. They offer the promise of enlivening our economy, advancing sustainable agriculture and forestry, and bolstering access to healthy local food.
Organic Growers School (OGS) is proud to be an ally in cultivating our local growers. OGS provides practical, technical education for farmers through our Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) program, which is a coordinated effort to bring established farmers, farm apprentices, and students of agriculture together for a comprehensive training program in sustainable agriculture. Further, OGS, along with local partners, has offered farmer-centered business planning training, marketing consulting, and access to capital.
Organic Growers School is a non-profit organization providing organic education since 1993. Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support people in our region to farm, garden, and live organically.