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You are here: Home ›› Press ›› Press Clips ›› If There Are No New Farmers, Who Will Grow Our Food?

If There Are No New Farmers, Who Will Grow Our Food?

By Kim Eckart
YES! magazine

Farmers are aging and not being replaced by new farmers. This great article by YES! Magazine includes interviews with Abukar and Amber from Seattle Tilth Farm Works and Andrea and Matthew from our staff, as well as other interesting ag programs that support new farmers in the US.

...About 40 miles southeast of Seattle, Abukar Haji surveys his beds of carrots, beans, collard greens, and romaine. Now in his third year with Seattle Tilth’s Farm Works incubator program, Haji has expanded his original one-eighth-acre plot to three-fourths of an acre and hopes to keep growing. A farmer in his native Somalia, Haji came to the United States five years ago and took a warehouse job until he learned about Farm Works at a local community center presentation. He now spends six days a week on the farm and is one of Farm Works’ top sellers in Seattle Tilth’s food hub, which distributes to its CSA, farmers markets, restaurants, and wholesalers.

Through a translator, Haji emphasized the help that Farm Works provided in learning and using new systems of planting and irrigation and in marketing his crops. Going out on his own, though, would be too stressful. “I’m going to stay here and get bigger,” he said with a laugh, gesturing toward the surrounding land.

And with Farm Works’ structure and goals, farmers like Haji likely will be able to do that. The 5-year-old program enrolls between eight and 10 new farmers a year for its classes and incubator plots, but no one has to leave, explained Andrea Dwyer, Seattle Tilth’s executive director. Rather, Seattle Tilth is actively seeking more land throughout the area to allow current Farm Works’ farmers to expand and to sign on new ones.

In the program’s “co-farming” model, subsidies to new farmers for seeds, equipment, and other resources decrease over time, while the land remains leased to farmers who participate in a farmers’ council to make decisions and solve problems and who can contribute produce to the food hub for revenue.

“We’re trying to re-evaluate what it means to be a farmer,” Farm Works manager Matthew McDermott said as he walked a path between plots. “Maybe a co-farming model is the way to be successful and grow a new generation of farmers.”

On an overcast yet mild weekday afternoon, half a dozen farmers tend to their chores. One motions Haji over to ask for advice. A few yards down, three young women work adjacent plots, maneuvering in and out of greenhouse tunnels packed with tomato plants.

Amber Taulbee pauses from her day’s task of removing thistles to pitch to McDermott the prospect of a Farm Works orchard.

That kind of access and support, Taulbee says later, has made all the difference in getting her dreams off the ground. At 37, Taulbee and her husband hope to find their own farmland and start a CSA.

“Farming is so challenging. I’ve had to become more realistic about how much help I’m going to need,” she said. “Until you start doing it for yourself, you don’t really understand it.”

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