Monday, July 9, 2012

New Agrarians in Quivira

The week after college graduation I achieved my longest-held dream: I started working on a dairy farm. I milked cows and drove tractors for the next three summers. Placid Holsteins learned to interpret my words and gestures as I moved through the barn with milking machines in the morning and evening. Alfalfa folded into neat swaths behind my haybine as the sun turned both the hay and my shoulders brown. It was the 1970s, when women got into the business by marrying a farmer. But I didn’t have time for a husband and family: I went to grad school, became a researcher, and lived in Africa.

If I had been born a Millennial instead of a Boomer, I might have been one of the New Agrarians. Like me, many of these young people grew up in cities and yearned for a closer relationship with the land than hiking and camping provide.

I met some of these creative, connected, and confident young farmers at the Quivira Coalition’s November, 2011 conference. I heard their stories and envied their lives connecting people to the land through food.

The New Agrarians are reversing the trend of fewer farmers using more inputs to cultivate larger farms. Today’s small farmers are using fewer inputs of iron and oil and closer management to intensively raise high quality foods that they sell directly to consumers. These producers are combining techniques and equipment used by earlier generations with current scientific understanding of natural systems to raise livestock and crops in more sustainable ways.

I introduced the readers of Rangelands magazine to these New Agrarians in my June, 2012 column.

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