Oregon's young farmers: a new generation

Carla Axtman

“You have to fix what Earl and I messed up,” Mr. Jones said his grandfather told him.

I sometimes get the impression that my wonky blog posts about land use get to be a tedious slog for some readers. The rules, levels of government, various associated groups, etc can be a lot to follow. But its so worth it if in some way I can help raise awareness about the importance of the conservation of our farmland. And why is that important? Because of people like this:

In New Food Culture, a Young Generation of Farmers Emerges:

After all, his grandfather had worked closely with Earl L. Butz, the former federal secretary of agriculture who was known for saying, “Get big or get out.”

But several weeks before his grandfather died, Mr. Jones broached the subject. His grandfather surprised him. “You have to fix what Earl and I messed up,” Mr. Jones said his grandfather told him.

Now, Mr. Jones, 30, and his wife, Alicia, 27, are among an emerging group of people in their 20s and 30s who have chosen farming as a career. Many shun industrial, mechanized farming and list punk rock, Karl Marx and the food journalist Michael Pollan as their influences. The Joneses say they and their peers are succeeding because of Oregon’s farmer-foodie culture, which demands grass-fed and pasture-raised meats.

A whole new generation of Oregonians are energized to work the land. They're willing to be innovative and creative--and they're stocking our region with locally grown food. They're shunning big, corporate farming in favor of joining with others at farmer's markets, too. I love that they're creating a new community of people dedicated to making their livelihood through farming.

So much has been written about the dangerous way our food is grown in the US and around the world. But with farms like these, we can be close to the food that lands on our table, seeing how it's grown for ourselves. And it's a very Oregon thing.

I'm so incredibly inspired by their work and what they contribute for us. Anything at all that we can do to preserve their ability to do this should be nurtured and encouraged.

With that, I hope readers will continue to understand my efforts in discussing land use and development in Oregon.

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    So glad you are highlighting this great article!

    For readers who would like to know more about the great work at Afton Field Farm and elsewhere, check out Alicia Jones' superfun farm blog:


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    Our kids own Oakhill Organics, http://www.oakhillorganics.org. It is exactly the type of farm you are talking about Carla! They have a CSA that feeds over 100 families every week. There are also two other young people who have started great small farming operations within a 1/4 of a mile from each other on the island. Another small farmer is currently considering purchasing some land just around the corner. Where is this happening? This is the new wave of farmers on Grand Island.

    Grand Island is under siege by rock quarries. There is a very large quarry application pending right now. If approved, 225 prime farmland will "bite the dust" and be forever removed from future food production. This would be a short term corporate gain that would create a long term farmland loss. You can't eat rocks. (Our Yamhill County Commissioners will make their decision on March 17th at 10:00 AM in the Yamhill County Courthouse.)

    These young farmers are our future. Carla, that is why you and I are beating the land use drum. Thanks for doing it!

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    For a follow-up, check out the emerging "Green Granger Coalition," an Ad Hoc group of local Oregon Granges that are promoting sustainability and relocalization. Hank and the Marys River Grange mentioned in the NYT piece are one. So are the Granges in Silverton, Macleay, North Howell, Rockford, (Hood River) and more.

    Unlike the National Grange organization that is more inline with large factory farms and their increasing unsustainable partners like Monsanto, ADM and the like, the Green Granges embrace the traditional ideals of local community food security.

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    Carla, As a young-ish Oregon farmer, I LOVE your posts about land use.

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    Hmm... another in a series of NY Times articles celebrating the foodie culture in Oregon. Can we survive the attention of our envious east coast colleagues?

    I'm always the sour puss, Carla, and since I have a student working on this topic for a thesis, here I go again.

    The unintended ironies in the article are many. Most obvious, these self-styled Marxist punk rockers rely on upper middle class consumers to sustain their lifestyle. Non-mechanized, small scale, craft agriculture like this supplies high end restaurants and farmers markets. $5 a pound tomato, anyone?

    I love the local food myself, but I'm not kidding myself that this is how we're going to feed our growing population.

    The Times doesn't really tell us if this is a sustainable business model, they're just more interested in highlighting hipster famers in Oregon.

    They do point out that the couple can't pay off their student loans, meaning they have bad credit, meaning they can't borrow (essential to any farmer). They don't own a farm, they work someone else's farm. They don't have health insurance.

    How long do we think they will stay farmers? Just about until they get tired of working 12 hours for low pay, high debt, and no health insurance.

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      In the current economy, it's a struggle for most everyone who isn't high middle to high income, Paul.

      You say "hipster farm" like it's a bad thing. Even long-time farmers are asking these younger growers about their practices. If the experienced, long-time farmers are seeing something--then it must have some merit. Will they stick with it? Maybe, maybe not. It's certainly less likely if we do stuff like say, make it extra hard for them to get loans because their land has been stuck in an urban reserve.

      Is it a sustainable business model? I don't know. Is it worth finding out? Yes.

      Can we feed the world this way? I doubt it. But since corporate farming is doing a marginal job of managing it, this could have a good impact.

      How about we find ways to support these people rather than seeking out ways to tear them down?

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        From Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/03/09-2

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          Long URL-Watch Wrap Published on Wednesday, March 9, 2011 by Civil Eats UN: Eco-Farming Feeds the World by Paula Crossfield

          For years now, the most-asked question by detractors of the good food movement has been, “Can organic agriculture feed the world?” According to a new United Nations report, the answer is a big, fat yes.

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      Paul, "Hipster farming" is not the only model. There are plenty of young folk in Oregon who are taking over the family farm. Others are finding ways to develop agritourism. There are many young people in Oregon's winery and vineyard industry. Some will find success, others will not. But the bigger picture, protecting Oregon's farmland from urbanization, is crucial to ANY kind of farming.... corporate, industrial, hipster, sustainable or other.

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      Hmm, long hours, low pay, high debt and no health insurance. Sounds like most of the small business owners I know, none of whom are farming. That ain't a farming thing, it's more a small independant business thing. That's why the vast majority of people work for someone else rather than themselves, the pay's better, you get state mandated benefits like worker's comp and unemployment insurance, wage protections for minimum and over time wages, etc.

      And - did you see the $5/lb tomatoes at the farmers market? While high, that would be a bout a buck a pound cheaper than the organic heirloom tomatoes from Mexico that I've seen at Safeway and Fred Meyer for the past several years.

      There are many, many ways to buy fresh foods from local farms and pay the same or even a bit less than you would at your local grocery store. I run a 45 member CSA on my farm in Mulino. My members get 30%-50% more produce in their shares than they would be able to buy at the grocery store at the store's regualr prices. While some CSAs require payment up front for their season, I run on a pay as you go basis, and I'm not the only CSA program to operate like that.

      Many small farms that raise livestock for slaughter will sell by the half or whole and you can have the carcass cut as you like by whomever you like, hell you can even do it yourself if you're so inclined, and the meat will cost you way, way less than what you'll pay per pound of cut at the store. When was the last time you paid $3.69/pound for filet mignon or a pork loin? Want your chop to be 1 1/2" or 2"? You can do that when you buy a quarter, half or whole.

      And as for upper middle class consumers being the base for most small farm businesses, I know a lot of people who shop at farmers markets that are NOT upper middle class, and a lot of CSA members are also NOT upper middle class. I know that none of mine are.

      You can see my farm's listing at www.localharvest.org, look for The Little Homestead, and while you're there you might also check out the other CSA farms in the Portland Metro area. While being small by most agricultural standards, they are by no means expensive or elitist. There's one over on Sauvie Island, I think they have a 400 member CSA program, and also sell produce through distributors. I know I've bought their winter squash at the produce stand here in Mulino, and I've bought their winter squash at either Fred Meyers or Safeway.

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    Nice story Carla! Thanks :)

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    The world population has grown so hideously large (and largely unhealthy) on exactly the promise of vast quantities of cheap (unhealthy) food churned out by corporate agriculture. Who says that local healthy food HAS to feed all those mouths.

    Growth is not sustainable. Meeting our own local needs might come a lot closer.

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