I do not put any stock into convincing current farmers to change. Most of them are 60 years old and they don’t have enough energy to change anyway. Changing takes a lot of energy. To stand the risk of failure and get up when you fall down, and innovation takes a lot of energy.
Diego, Permaculture Voices:
Most farmers don’t innovate, their factories for the most part – they just replicate a system, use heavy equipment. Do you think that we need to just start fresh and retrain farmers for this generation?
Oh my, that is such a hard issue because there are few things as unappreciated as unsolicited advice. You can’t teach a pig to fly because it doesn’t want to fly and it irritates the pig. So I do not put any stock into convincing current farmers to change. Most of them are 60 years old and they don’t have enough energy to change anyway. Changing takes a lot of energy. To stand the risk of failure and get up when you fall down, and innovation takes a lot of energy.
So I think that what we need to do is incubate and germinate a new generation of farmers that don’t have to try to relearn everything, or de-learn everything, and are ready to learn things a fresh. And I think that they’re here. Last fall we took in inquires for our farm and we had 300 inquires for 8 spots. We have watched that snowball. And it’s the same at other farms, it’s not just us. It’s every farm I know that does a formal intern program, they’re just swamped with interest. So I think the missing ingredient is to actually get young people to understand that is that there is a way to farm where you can make a white collar salary. If you can get over that bump, I think there are thousands and thousands of young people ready to get dirt under their fingernails, calluses on their hands, not have to go to the gym anymore, and you know get out here and grow things. So I don’t really spend any time trying to convert existing farmers; they just have to go the way of the dodo bird. Get out of the way and let young people go.
Now that being said, I am just at the stages of releasing another book, Fields of Farmers, and its about interning, mentoring, germinating, and sprouting a new generation of farmers. And part of my audience in that book is the hermit curmudgeon 60 year old farmer, and to look that farmer in the eye and say “I know the thought of a young person puppying around with you all day sounds horrible, BUT look in the mirror and tell me that you want to be alone at 70.” Because the fact is, that the farm that was exciting at 30 becomes drudgery at 60; because of the cycle of life and our own energy cycle. So part of the book is pleading with current farmers, you don’t have to change anything, just open your arms wide enough to embrace one of these young bright eyed, bushy tailed, self-starter, entrepreneurial young people and let them come and form a complementary, non-competitive, entrepreneurial agricultural enterprise on your land base. And then you’ll develop a relationship, so when you wake up in the morning, and “oh, my knee hurts” you’ve got a young person who can go pinch hit for you for the day. And that’s a much more exciting way to age than fading off alone.
So while I am not trying to convert the existing farmer, I would like them to appreciate what it would be like to age with one, two, or three partners. Not a formal business partnership, just young people who can take that spare corner, my goodness the corners of the center pivot irrigation systems for that matter. How many acres are in these corners? A good enterprising young person could take those and turn them into apple orchards, food forests, vineyards, mesclun mix, and all sorts of stuff. And so there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for stackable, complementary enterprises on existing farms for elderly farmers.
This is an excerpt from an interview that I did with Joel Salatin on May 22, 2013 in Big Bear Lake, CA. The transcript is verbatim. A complete transcript, audio, and video will be available at a later date. For now enjoy these small bites.
Read Part 1 of the interview: Joel Salatin on the importance of running a profitable, yet balanced agriculture business.
Read Part 2 of the interview: Joel Salatin on Converting Conventional Farms to Organic, Salatin-Style Systems
Read Part 3 of the interview: Joel Salatin – There has never been a better time to go into farming.
Read Part 4 of the interview: With good herbivore management, a perennial system will out compete an annual system of any stripe.