And the timing is good, experts say. Today, farmers over age 55 control more than half of all U.S. farmland. Since 1987 the number of entry-level farmers has declined by 30 percent. These statistics do not mean that farmland is going to disappear. But it is being consolidated into ever-larger parcels, which are increasingly coming under the control of large agribusiness companies. What was once a nation of small family farmers is becoming a nation of super-farms.
This trend is disheartening to many who value our country's agrarian past, but some see hope in the vanguard of young farmers. "Within the sustainable agriculture community, we are excited about this new upsurge in small, multifaceted farms," said Kathleen Merrigan, director of the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program at Tufts University.
Merrigan points out that while the total number of young farmers is still small, "This movement is significant in light of the aging of the American farm population. As so many older farmers begin to retire, we have to ask ourselves not just who is going to grow our food, but also what is going to happen to all that land?" Some of it is being turned over to farming's
Many of these new farmers were not born into farming families but have come to the field on their own. Many are interested in farming in a more environmentally healthy manner. And the lessons they are learning about the value of community and connection with the land are enlightening.
Amiger's 100-acre Blue Heron Farm is located along the Upper Chester River in Maryland, hard by Chesapeake Bay. He inherited it from his grandfather, who had lived on the property for many years, renting the land out to farmers to grow various crops, including a few years of tomatoes for Campbell's famous soup.
After graduating from Colby, Armiger journeyed to Alaska, drove trucks, and found his dog, Margaret. But the farm called him back. After a year he moved into a 19th-century granary on the farm property and rented the farmhouse to some friends.
The guy who came to the party looking like he had just climbed down from a tractor had done just that. Armiger found a 1962 tractor he could afford. The ancient Ferguson frequently broke down, and he learned that in order to become a farmer one must be a good mechanic as well. His mentor? A mechanically inclined neighbor who liked to hunt deer on Armiger's land.