Ellie Gunn -The future for farming
A recent gathering of farmers in Big Sur, called the Agrarian Elders Conference, was convened to document what leaders in the organic food movement have learned over many years and discuss a concern of those farmers: When they can no longer perform manual labor, who will continue growing food on the farms they spent years developing?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of farmers in the United States is 57, with a significant number over 65. Those of us who have been gardening or farming for 30 or 40 years, whose adult children fled to the city and do not want to inherit a farm or garden, are now wondering how to continue what we have begun without having to move away from the land we love.
In 2011, I joined a group of mostly young people interested in farming as a career. While I shared my knowledge of growing vegetables, I hoped they would load the wheelbarrow, dig weeds and prune the orchard; and they do, sometimes. As we work together, I learn about their dreams and the philosophy of gardening or farming they want to practice. All embrace the broader view of sustainable agriculture.
Among these new farmers are people who have chosen community supported agriculture, or CSAs. Customers buy shares of the harvest in the spring and are given a weekly supply of food during the year. The cash helps farmers make critical purchases early in the season and guarantees customers for their produce. CSAs create relationships between growers and consumers.
n Beth Satterwhite grew up on a small farm in Oregon and started working for a CSA and in a community garden during her senior year at Linfield College. Her thesis was on CSA farms, and she now works for Yamhill River Farm, a vendor at the McMinnville Farmers Market that is starting a CSA.
Beth is well informed about the elder farmers issue. She started a project called Yamhill Valley Farmers Network to connect farmers looking for someone to work their land with farmers who need good soil. Beth knows the situation must be approached with care, creativity and long-term vision.
n Katie and Casey Kulla farm 100 acres on Grand Island. Their CSA, Oakhill Organics, began with 17 acres of vegetables and now includes raising animals and an orchard. The children of some nearby farmers did not want to farm, so the Kullas bought the land, expanded their farm and hired three employees. Although the additions create more work, the couple maintains a long-term perspective for future generations and feels their stewardship of this land is their calling in life.
n When David Kellner-Rode studied environmental policy at Linfield, he probably didnt imagine himself planting peas, building chicken coops, making sauerkraut or starting a CSA. His new business, Walnut City Farms, reflects his commitment to acquire skills, gain self-sufficiency and be self-employed. He wants to connect what he loves about growing food with a community of people who thrive from the nourishment his fresh vegetables provide.
n Duncan Reid is working toward environmental stewardship and sustainability in his personal life and in his job at Linfield College. He views sustainable agriculture as a way to account for the whole cost of a product, whether its a head of cabbage, a bushel of apples or a box of cereal. He hopes people will consider how food exported from a distance takes more energy than food grown locally.
Duncan’s personal goals include raising awareness among consumers: the health of land where food is grown has a direct effect on the quality of food, health of consumers and impacts on the earth and future generations. He is one of the founders of an urban backyard garden in McMinnville called Walnut City Homestead, which is a supplier for the Walnut City Farms CSA.
n Cameron Smith has studied permaculture, a method of landscape planning for home gardens and farms. Planting trees for both shade and fruit, building stone walls to prevent erosion and growing food in permanent raised beds to eliminate tilling and its use of fossil fuels are basic to the process. Inspired to design permaculture for landscapes from valley floor farmland to hillside regeneration after neglect, Cam is pursuing a career in design and the physical work needed to create permaculture.
n Clay Wesson is native plant nursery manager at Miller Woods, a project of the Yamhill Soil & Water Conservation District. His leadership and enthusiasm encourages people to plant native shrubs and groundcover around their homes, offering flowers attractive to pollinators and easy-care edible plants. Native plants thrive in their natural habitat. Clay also is librarian for the Oregon Biodynamics Group and has co-led several local workshops on medicinal herbs and biodynamic gardening.
n Alex Freedman started the Home Grown Food Products business with David Kellner-Rode. They produce fermented vegetable products, turning cabbage into sauerkraut and assorted vegetables into spicy kimchi. They have a booth at the McMinnville Farmers Market with a loyal following of fermented food fans.
Alex intended to do neuroscience research as a way to improve people’s health but has decided that establishing relationships in the community through growing and fermenting vegetables will benefit his own health as well as the lives of the people he knows and loves.
My hope for the future is that organic farming and gardening will continue to thrive in Yamhill County. I especially hope farmers will e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to share their resources, knowledge and land with Beth and my young friends, the next generation of Yamhill County farmers.
Guest writer Ellie Gunn and her husband, Mark Davis, grow fruit and vegetables year-round on their terraced backyard garden near downtown McMinnville. She will answer garden questions for 5 cents each at La Casa Verde on April 19 in the Granary District.
Alex Freedman, Ellie Gunn, Cam Smith and David Kellner-Rode, left to right, do some weeding in front of Walnut City Homestead, an urban garden in McMinnville..
Beth Satterwhite staffs the Yamhill River Farm booth at the McMinnville Farmers Market on a Thursday in July, 2013.