WOSU, Debbie Holmes, 6/28/2017
It’s estimated that 10 percent of small farmers across the country leave farming every year. With a program called Begin Farming, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is trying to help beginning farmers with the challenges that come with running your own business.
Ohio currently has about 27,000 “beginning farmers,” which the USDA defines as those on the land less than 10 years. But program coordinator Kelly Henderson says the average age of farmers in the state is 56 years old.
“Which means we’ve got a retiring group that are going to be leaving farming here real soon,” Henderson says. “And we’re trying to get some of these beginning farmers on the land that these retiring farmers are going to be leaving.”
Begin Farming aims to not just help younger farmers purchase land, but also pass along knowledge from more experienced farmers. That’s necessary, Henderson says, because family-owned farms are finding that children aren’t interested in keeping up the trade.
“A lot of this interest in farming is coming from folks who are either coming on as a second career farmer, leaving previous occupations, or you know, folks that are coming from the city that are really interested in a new lifestyle,” she says.
That transition, though, is not an easy one. Henderson says that business planning and financial management, as well as how to access farm land and capital, are skills young farmers need to learn to be successful.
Henderson says training Ohio’s next generation of farmers needs to start early.
“I think the first wave is getting especially aspiring farmers, getting them on the land as apprentices and interns and getting their hands in the soil and getting a feel for what that work is really going to be like,” Henderson says. “Because I think a lot of people do romanticize farming. And while it is a lifestyle choice that makes a lot of people happy, and they choose it for that reason, it’s hard work.”