Photo Credit: Shrimp farming in Aceh, Indonesia. Photo by Mike Lusmore/Duckrabbit, 2012 via Flickr.com user WorldFish

Young Farmer on the Rise

In my recent book Kitchen Literacy, I concluded by urging readers to learn where their food comes from and how it is raised. In developing my own "kitchen literacy," I've enjoyed getting to know one of the farmers who grow the veggies I buy: Zöe Bradbury. At age 29 and already accomplished in advocacy, education, and farming, Zöe just started her own organic farm this year. Her rainbow colored carrots are to die for, her beets brilliant and sweet, her fennel fabulous, but most impressive have been the energy, passion, and muscle she has invested into her farm. Back in April, when she told me she was planting thousands of artichoke, strawberry, and asparagus plants and hundreds and hundreds of beets, leek, squashes, and more, all plotted in Excel (she learned to farm by spreadsheet when she worked at a CSA), I was astounded. I couldn't even begin to fathom the cascade of tasks she had arrayed before her. Then she put in an irrigation system and bought a team of Belgian Draft horses. I happened to visit the 7-acre farm when she first hooked the horses up to an old, renovated John Deere disker. I got to watch her get jostled around as she learned anew a skill that's mostly been lost to oil-based farming. Zöe sees herself as part of a rising movement of young farmers taking the reins of America's agriculture. With the average age of farmers is now approaching 60, this new generation of farmers will play a crucial role in our country's future. Zoe joined her sister and mother who already grew specialty lettuce and hot-house tomatoes and peppers on family land. Zöe is committed to making her farm a closed-loop system. She strives to reduce outside inputs as a way of keeping costs down but also as a way of living better on earth. She sees her work building a farm that can supply our local communities as a key part of rebuilding a more sustainable agriculture. And best of all, she loves her work. Eating Zoe's carrots has been terrific not only because they taste fabulous but because when I buy them, I feel like I am helping in a small but tangible way to create the world that I want to live in. Typically kids from rural areas move away and never come back to the communities where they grew up because they find few opportunities for work. I am grateful that Zöe has come back to rural Oregon with the verve to forge her own opportunity. Many other local people are excited about her return, too. Some are neighbors and friends who have known her since she was a kid; some like to stop by and watch her work with the draft horses or who pitch in to help with old equipment; others are newbies excited about the prospect of buying great fresh and local food. By all accounts, the birth of this small farm has brought a spirit of promise and renewal. To learn more about my farmer Zoë Bradbury, check out her blog Diary of a Young Farmer, or listen to an audio piece and slideshow I recently did about Zoë and her family for our local community radio project. What do you think? Leave us a comment. ———- Ann VileisisAnn Vileisis is the author of Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get it Back, which was recently recognized as a Finalist for the Connecticut Book Award. Visit her website.