The new generation of Rogue Valley farmers are taking things back to the old-school, farming their land more like their grandparent’s generation while keeping a focus on educating the public.
Shantrin Lininger of Fusion Farm grew up in her family’s gardens. Now she works the soil on her own micro-mini plots, motivated by the importance of supporting local farmers and educating people about the true source of their food. Likewise, the Salch family of Little Sprouts Farm took on farming so they could give their children a life full of hands-on education about where their food comes from while raising and breeding high-quality and rare livestock. The idea that most Americans today are so far removed from the source of their food is what motivates them to support the delicate balance between nature and consumer.
Tyson Fehrman and Jonny Steiger of By George Farm are in it for the same reasons. “I feel like our generation is really taking on this role of empowering themselves with knowledge. Not going by the status quo and understanding that food can be good for you and be delicious and having it come from a local source so that it doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles is what we need to be sustainable and have a future. Our generation seems to be embracing that,” says Fehrman. “With our generation it isn’t about the money. We’re just looking for a sustainable way to feed ourselves and others, essentially. We’re turning back to some of the old ways, the sustainable ways that work.”
Sustainability seems to be the theme of this generation. With problems arising everyday with the way big agri-business has practiced over the decades, more young farmers are taking matters into their own hands by supporting themselves, and their communities with good products and the practices to back them up. But dealing with the economic challenges that mass production has left in its wake is often a struggle.
“We’ve seen conventional farming and the effects it has on the food system, natural ecosystem, and our economical system,” says Josh Cohen of Barking Moon Farm. “We’re trying to recover from the mind-set that a dozen eggs should cost two bucks. It’s hard when people think they have a sense of what an item is valued at only because these larger non-sustainable systems are producing them for that.”
Small-scale commercial farming is still a new movement within the younger generation, he says, and there’s still just a very small percentage of the general population that understands the importance of buying local and organic, and the prices they have to pay for that. Cohen also cites marketing challenges as some of the bigger obstacles for his generation. “Not only do we have to be really aggressive with marketing, but it’s also on us as the producer, for the most part, to adopt the responsibility of the consumer education that goes along with it,” he says.
But challenges aside, there’s nothing he’d rather be doing. “What roped us in was the romantic notion of farming, but then the reality of the challenges and struggles of farming make themselves apparent pretty quickly, but I can’t think of anything more noble than what we do. We’re essentially keeping us and our communities alive. If we’re doing that with integrity, I can’t think of anything better to do with my time even if it has other costs to me.”