I just spent an invigorating 2 days in Washington DC at the Drake Forum, a gathering intended to “identify innovative policies and projects at the federal, state, and local levels to support new and beginning farmers.” Right now the average age of the American farmer is 57, a statistic we bandy about without really knowing how to correct it. I mean the answer is simple: get more young people on the land! Make farming a cool, viable career again! But easier said than done.
Jane Black covered it anecdotally in the Washington Post today, capturing just one of many of the fascinating stories shared with the 200+ group. We heard stories of frustration–navigating the confusing maze of USDA programs available; stories of renegades succeeding despite the obstacles–Hmong farmer Susane Moua in St. Paul MN, turning backyards into a CSA program.
The strength of this gathering lay in a few key places:
1. The focus on discussing real, possible solutions, especially in the policy arena
2. The presence of US Agencies, especially the USDA (including Secretary Tom Vilsack delivering the opining keynote)
3. The focus on bringing together big ag and sustainable ag (though the deck was a bit stacked towards the sustainable ag folks)
The conference was organized by Professor Neil Hamilton, Slow Food chapter leader in Iowas as well as the head of the Drake Agricultural Law Center. Attendees seemed extremely energized following the final session today–one in which “policy reporters” from each panel summarized the potential policy solutions that arose on their panel as well as posing the essential remaining questions.