Opinion by Reba EplerWritten by Reba Epler
By Reba Epler, Hillsdale farmer and lawyer
The Quivira Coalition held its 10th annual meeting in Albuquerque, N.M. on Nov. 8-10, and the theme of the meeting was “New Agrarians: How the Next Generation of Leaders Tackles 21st Century Challenges.”
Over the course of three days, 16 presentations were given, which addressed the overall theme of how “new agrarians” are working in farming and ranching and how they are dealing with challenges ranging from breaking into agriculture to conservation issues the speakers faced on their land.
The conference was remarkable! About 500 people attended the conference and, in my estimation, half were young people working in agriculture and conservation. I made so many friends and discovered that there are many other like-minded people. The speakers did not focus on identifying problems, rather, they talked about what they are doing and were so positive and fun to listen to. Almost everyone in agriculture is well aware that there are problems and challenges, but this conference took a step beyond that, and skipped to what people are doing and thinking to help move agriculture into becoming sustainable, fun, lively, profitable and open to new young producers.
I would like to share in this article the things that were remarkable, uplifting and inspiring. It is very clear that young people have to become farmers and ranchers in the next decade, and I would like to describe some of the operations that young people are beginning and how they are breaking into agriculture.
An incredible organization that young people in Wyoming who want to become agriculturist should know about is the “Greenhorns.” The Greenhorns is a grassroots non-profit organization made up of young farmers and many collaborators. The organization’s mission is to recruit, promote and support the new generation of young farmers in this ample and able 21st Century America.
The Greenhorns is a young farmer community, and Severine von Tscharner Fleming is the director. She spoke about how many young people all over the country are becoming farmers and how they are doing it. One of the ways to get into agriculture is to apprentice on a farm and learn what that farmer can teach. Another way is to start small and direct market your products. Being able to socialize with other young people endeavoring in agriculture is one of the benefits of this organization.
There will be a Greenhorn Mixer in Durango, Colo. so young people in agriculture can meet each other, and I will definitely be in attendance, and if anyone is interested in going, please contact me.
Jeff Gossage is a young rancher from Colorado. He currently works on a large bison ranch and talked about his resolve to become a rancher and the jobs he worked on different ranches to get where he wanted to go. He had to go with the flow, in a sense, but he was working toward a goal on another level. He said he would never own a ranch, but is happy with being able to manage other people’s ranches and he doesn’t feel dissatisfied or discouraged with that.
Nikiko Masumoto is a young woman farmer from the Central Valley of California. She talked about coming back to her family’s farm and incorporating her love of performing arts into her farming career. As agriculture people, it is important to remember what we love to do, and not to abandon that simply because we now work on the farm or ranch.
I encourage everyone to visit quiviracoalition.org to see the poem Nikiko gave about her vision for agriculture in the United States. Her vision includes farmers and ranchers making as much money as high paid football players in the NFL, and having good quality food available for all people in the United States and world. She received a standing ovation from everyone in the crowd.
Miguel is a farmer and educator from Taos, N.M. He is a dynamic speaker and absolutely believes in the power of farming. He gets young people to farm and garden alongside him and he believes working with the earth and young people is the key to having a healthy people.
Because Santistevan farms in northern New Mexico, water is limiting for large-scale agriculture. His farms rely on water from the acequias, which are irrigation canals dug by the Spaniards during the 1600s and 1700s. Because drought has been so hard for farmers during the last two years, Miguel is trying out some very different techniques, such as piling rocks to create a thermal mass to collect humidity to plant crops around, and amending the soil with different mulches to prevent moisture loss.
Santistevan is a big believer in looking to how the indigenous people farmed before Spanish contact. Crops such as native corn, beans and squash grew with very little water. He argued that water may not be the ultimate limiting factor in climate change, but that germination may be. He is experimenting with winter germination because it is becoming difficult to plant in the spring due to the recent wild weather fluctuations in the spring.
Annie Novak is a young urban farmer from Brooklyn, N.Y. She spoke about the growing urban food movement and showed examples of rooftop gardening and utilizing empty lots in the city to grow fruits, vegetables and animals. One of the greatest challenge urban farmers face is not having great soil depth. Urban farming makes agriculture accessible to people and has been very beneficial to young people because they get to experience cultivation, hard work and being around the solace of an urban garden.
Tyffany Herrera, Rochelle Vandever and Lillian Hill, young Navajo and Hopi women, spoke about developing farming and conservation operations on their reservations. These young women worked with their community to create opportunities to put other young people to work and accomplish tremendous progress in restoring the land from being overgrazed.
Sarahlee Lawrence talked about her life, which includes working as a rafting guide for two years in the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet to moving back to her family’s farm in eastern Oregon and turning her family’s farm into a vegetable farm, while still maintaining the hay and grain fields.
Bryce Andrews works on a ranch near Butte, Mont. in the middle of the nations largest superfund site. He talked about how his ranch is collaborating with different organizations and agencies to work to clean up soil contamination from the Anaconda Copper mine.
The young people who spoke and whom I met are making a go of becoming agriculturists. No one was afraid of the hard work or challenges, and they were delighted to be able to work outdoors, with plants and animals, and be able to experience the joys and challenges of agriculture.
The conference also held a New Agrarian Career Connection, which put young interested people into contact with farmers and ranchers who have positions open. The conference provided opportunities and renewed energy.
Reba Epler is a twenty-nine-year-old who lives on her family’s farm in Hillsdale, and she is also a lawyer.