Open a history textbook or study demographics in the United States, and the statistics are fairly easy to understand: the number of family farms has plummeted the past few generations, while many rural areas of the country witness declining populations and watch its youth move away for better opportunities.
Could we start seeing a reversal of this trend? One upshot of a recession is that those who have trouble finding jobs often strike it out on their own, taking risks because at the very least, there really is not that much to lose. Food production is one industry that could be about to embark on a generational shift. Once abandoned by the younger generations, many entrepreneurs, sensing opportunity while disturbed by the effects of factory farms and their environmental and social effects, are now embracing a sector that many of use see as antiquated. Now Organic Valley, the largest organic farming cooperative in the US, will launch its Generation Organic 2010 “Who’s Your Farmer” Tour.
The Tour will stop at college campuses across the country, led by some of Organic Valley’s farmer-owners under the age of 35. They will discuss with students the viability of a career in organic farming, discuss the advantages of going organic, and in the most savvy move, will lead “grilled cheese socials” . . . while demonstrating how healthy personal food choices affect ourselves and the planet.
One such “Generation Organic” farmer is Adam Azevedo of Merced County, California, located in California’s rich San Joaquin Valley. Azevedo’s grandfather was one of many Portuguese immigrants who settled in Central California and became central figures in towns like Merced, Tranquility, and Kerman. (In fact, there are more Azorean Portuguese in the Central Valley than there are in now in the Azores.) Growing up, Azevedo watched his father–wary about chemical overuse, the rise of agribusiness, and the decline of family farming–transition from conventional to organic. Now the younger Azevedo manages the farm’s 450 acres, 150 of which are dedicated to growing organic oats and corn. When Azevedo heard that California State University-Chico’s campus had started an organic dairy and was joining Organic Valley’s cooperative, he started a program that solicited donations in order to seed the campus’ new program.
Azevedo works long days, especially in the summer, tending to his crops and cows. Farming requires hard work, long hours, and a lot of risks that are outside of one’s control. It is easy to get excited about organic products—hopefully the “Who’s Your Farmer” Tour will be realistic and discuss the downsides as well as the benefits of entering the world of organic farming, a tough call when talking with young college students who are still very idealistic. We need that passion, and we need more Adam Azevedos doing good with our farmland.