Last week, Nolan and I attended the Organic Alberta conference, in Olds, AB. What an exciting event, I am so glad we got to go! The speakers were all very knowledgable and enthusiastic, and the atmosphere was wonderfully positive and inspiring. I left with a pile of notes (that I have to copy out neatly sometime this week, since they are in my nearly-illegible-chicken-scratch handwriting) and even more excited than usual about everything organic!
When we first arrived at the opening, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a good number of those attending were around our age. We don’t know a lot of other young farmers so I was excited to meet some people with whom we might have some things in common. I was disappointed to find though, that when we went to the first few talks aimed towards grain farmers, we were some of the youngest people in the room.
Next generation family farming is something that I have thought about a lot since the conference. In one talk, called “Where Are All of the Young Farmers?” presented by Dana Penrice of Organic Alberta, I learned that 74% of Canadian farmers today say that they will sell their farm in the next 10 years. This is sad, but didn’t surprise me. What did come as a shock though, is that 68% of new farmers nowadays actually did not grow up with a farming background. The question arising from these stats is: Why aren’t “farm kids” returning to the family farm?
For me, if anyone had told me at the age of sixteen that I would return to the farm at age twenty-six and LOVE it, I would have laughed in their face (or maybe gave an exaggerated eye-roll – I had quite an attitude at sixteen). I did come back though, and it embarrasses me now when I think about how badly I wanted to get away from the farm as a teen. Of course, it was isolated and a lot of hard work, most teens wouldn’t be keen on staying. Now though, I wish I had learned to appreciate farm life sooner, and feel a little like I’m making up for lost time. I always thought that I just had a particularly bad attitude about the farm as a teenager, but learning these statistics really makes me wonder since obviously it is common for individuals to not return to the family farm – what with the trend in so many family farms being sold.
When I try to put myself back in that sixteen-year-old mindset (eye-rolls and all) I remember seeing my parents as overworked, worried, and exhausted. Not very attractive adjectives to someone deciding on a future career. When one thinks about farming as a career in general, I think it is commonly viewed as very difficult, stressful work, without a lot of benefits. How can we as farmers, and non-farmers who support agriculture, spread enthusiasm and respect for a career in farming?
One of the talks at the conference, presented by Becky Lipton, the Executive Director of Organic Alberta, explained a project called Organic 3.0. It was created by IFOAM Organics International and is basically meant to bring more people into organic farming, and help integrate it into society as a more commonplace practice in the future. As part of this presentation, Becky had the audience split into small groups and brainstorm ideas about Organic 3.0, one of the subjects being how we as individuals can contribute to this movement. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of ideas, but I have been pondering this idea over the past few days and came up with a very simple, small thing that I think could have a big impact:
From now on, when someone asks me about my farming career, I’m going to smile. I’m going to grin and talk about the best things about my job. I’m going to make it a goal to establish in myself a kind of contagious enthusiasm for organic agriculture.
A few days ago, someone asked me how my first year as a full-time farmer went. Without really thinking, I said “Well, there was a drought, and we lost some flax to elk damage. Next year should be better.”
I am appalled at myself that by default, I just talked about the hardships instead of all the good things in our first year farming. I didn’t mention the excitement I felt as I dug my hands into the soil searching for flax seeds when our first-ever crop started germinating. I didn’t tell them about one of the late nights during harvest when we shut down the combines and just stood staring up at the sky, watching the Northern Lights dance like I’d never seen before. I can’t quite believe that after just one year farming, I’ve been talking like a cranky old farmer!? I’m frustrated that I’ve been letting this negativity to come out of my mouth when truthfully, I am full of pride and a powerful sense of accomplishment over our first year as farmers, despite the challenges.
It is easy for so many of us (in all different careers and life situations) to focus too much on the negative. I think we need to be especially conscious of what we focus on when it comes to agriculture, since it is such a challenging profession, and one that so desperately needs the interest and involvement of the younger generation.
As long as I’m farming, I’m going to keep smiling, because there’s so much to smile about!