Cultivating New Farmers

New organic programs are teaching young people the skills they need to make a living on the farm and thus, cultivating the next generation of farmers.

| February/March 2007

Farming is one of the most useful and satisfying occupations people can pursue. It meets our need to feel useful, exercises body and brain, builds communities, and connects us with nature. The more food we produce for ourselves and our neighbors, the healthier our communities will be. But with the average U.S. farmer now 55 years old, we need a new generation of farmers to replace those who are retiring.

Fortunately, there are many young people who dream of becoming farmers, and with the rapidly growing demand for organic and local food, there also are growing business opportunities to meet local needs for fresh, healthy food. If you or someone you know is an aspiring farmer, there are numerous career options. Here’s where to start learning the skills to earn a fulfilling living on the farm.

The Academic Route

A good place to start looking for academic programs near you is the online directory maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This directory is a thorough list of the colleges and universities with sustainable agriculture programs, and the much greater number of schools offering one or more courses in organic farming.

Many of the colleges listed are land-grant universities — state colleges and universities specializing in agriculture. State universities offer two-year, four-year and graduate programs, and while they have a tradition of emphasizing industrial agriculture, many now also teach sustainable and organic approaches.

The first U.S. program to offer a Bachelor of Science in sustainable agriculture began in 1988 at the University of Maine. Mark Guzzi is a young farmer who graduated from the program in 2000. He says he has always been interested in the environment and that farming is the perfect career for him.

Guzzi says he got more out of the program because he had worked or interned on four farms before starting college, which helped him better understand the importance and applications of his coursework. “The program is a good way to learn the principles and ecology behind agriculture, but you also need practical experience,” he says. Practical experience is encouraged by many farming programs, including the University of Maine, which requires field experience and a capstone course in designing and managing agro-ecosystems.

5/19/2007 4:48:31 PM

I found this site very helpful,and after browsing i feel farming is the only thing i want to go for, by any perspective.

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