Local young farmers point out trials of starting out

Newark Advocate

Drew Bracken

April 12, 2012

It’s not easy to start a farm, especially if you’re young and money is tight.

On Monday night, Granville High School Environmental classes, in conjunction with the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s Heart of Ohio Chapter, presented a meal, a movie called “GROW!” and a panel discussion of half a dozen local young farmers to showcase the challenges young farmers face in getting started in the business.

Shopping at local farmers markets, joining community-supported agriculture food subscription suppliers and urging local and national legislators to support policies and programs supporting beginning farmers were suggested as ways to help them.

“Also, if people have land they aren’t using, there are farm programs they can lease or property out to young farmers,” said Bryn Bird, of Bird’s Haven Farm near Granville.

The movie “GROW!” showed the rewards and the challenges of farming. It was a look at the new generation of sustainable farming though the eyes of 20 “passionate, idealistic and fiercely independent young growers.”

In the movie, young farmers from various parts of the country made comments like, “I feel like it’s doing something real” and “Real jobs are hard to come by these days, and I feel like this is the realest job of all.”

Another concluded: “I can only imagine a world where farmers are upheld like doctors and where every fourth person is a farmer again.”

Jim Reding, the environmental science teacher at GHS and the person in charge of the school’s organic garden, echoed that thought afterward.

“One of the things we discuss in class is if we’re going to feed the world, we need to get more people involved,” he said. “Whether that means you’re a farmer or you’re gardening in your backyard, both of those are going to be necessary.”

“We need to go back to where most of the population grows food,” Reding said. “Whether it’s something they consume themselves or put out there on the market, it doesn’t really matter.”

The panel members all were local young farmers. When asked about the biggest challenge to young farmers, Anton Sarossy-Christon, owner of Terravita Farm, said, “A lack of mentors. We read a lot of books, we read a lot of blogs, and we make a lot of mistakes.”

Ches Stewart, an apprentice at Bird’s Haven Farm, said, “I’m broke. I think that’s the best way to describe a young farmer.”

Bird described how she dealt with a corporate food supplier who was reluctant to start a local food line, calling it a “trend.” Bird, recalling that her mother remembered a day when grocery stores were not the dominant food source in society, said, “This isn’t a trend. The trend is the grocery store.”

The Birds, she said, just were accepted into the National Farmer’s Union Beginning Farmer’s Institute, one of 10 chosen nationally to travel around country to learn from other farmers.

Monday night’s event was attended by about 100 people in the high school cafeteria area.

“We wanted to interest young people to farm,” said Chuck Dilbone, the business manager for Granville schools and, most recently, a farmer. He and his family started Sunbeam Family Farm in Alexandria.

“I think also one of my main reasons is to get the community to support young farmers, maybe open up somebody’s land where people can farm, or to mentor young people. I think that’s my number one goal,” Dilbone said.

To view the trailer of the movie “GROW!”, visit www.videoproject.com/ grow.html.