"If our generation is going to try to make the world a healthier place through our influence, I think food is a great place to start. " -- Jesse Nichols, Stoneboat Farm, OR
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY Eva Verbeeck
5:30 AM and the alarm goes off, that means six minutes for coffee and 10 min get ready and stand outside in my dirty dungarees.
A group of 7 sleepy faces are outside by the field ready to attack the day. First we listen to the list of daily chores, then team up and start working outside picking tomatoes, cucumbers and everything that seems about ready to be harvested. I love Monday mornings. My nails are dirty, blue grass music is playing from the house and I’m feeling the sunrise on my face.
The first time I worked on a farm was only two years ago. I grew up on the countryside in Belgium but I had never farmed in my life. That first experience growing changed something in the way I looked at food. I saw that food ultimately connects us all. What we let enter our bodies is the most intimate choice we make. City dwellers are often disconnected from their food sources and most millennials seem to think that vegetables simply sprout on grocery store shelves.
With that in mind I decided to photograph the life of young farmers. I worked and lived together with first generation farmers on small-scale organic farms.
Even though family farms are the foundation of life in North America, only six percent of farmers are under the age of 35; the average age of a farmer in America being 57*. Although it seems like more young people are getting into farming, there simply aren’t enough young farmers to replace the ones retiring. The young hard working hands that have come forward are very passionate not only about farming, but also about the environmental responsibility they have as farmers.
Often with a college degree in their pockets, young organic farmers decide to partake in the upkeep of their land. “There are so many things going on in the world that feel out of your control.” explains Alyssa Belter of Plenty Wild Farms in Pemberton Valley, BC. “For me farming is a way to make a difference in food security and environmental issues by choosing to farm organically on a small scale.”
The reality is that farmers are aging and agriculture needs a new generation to take up the reins and learn from the seasoned farmers before they retire. It’s time to think about trading skinny jeans for dirty overalls. There are many young farmers working hard every day in an attempt to help the agriculture sector return to its former power with dirty hands, worn boots and sun pressed skin. Turning the tanker may be slow work but as new farms are popping up in unexpected places and CSA boxes are being picked up at local homesteads, it seems like we are heading in the right direction.
*USDA Farm Demographics: Introduction to Farm Demographics. National Agricultural Library, USDA.
Eva Verbeeck is photographer from Belgium. With a background in international law the focus of her work is creating awareness for environmental challenges, the protection of the human rights across the world and encouraging adventurous travel. She spent the summer 2015 working at organic farms with young, first generation farmers. For more from Eva, visit www.evaverbeeck.com