03 May 2012

Current and Future Farmers of America

“Americans derive almost all of their calories from just 12 crops. Yet, botanists estimate that 10,000 edible plants exist. At Mudjoy Farm, our mission is to showcase some of these novel and rare crops, while at the same time offering the traditional varieties that we all know and love. As a small family farm, we aim to provide healthy and nutritious food that is grown with care in a sustainable manner.”

-From the Mission Statement of Mudjoy Farms

Increasingly, farming is not a game for the young. We get fooled a little at our Markets, in part because all our growers look so radiantly young or because sometimes it’s younger family members or hired help working the stalls, and thankfully, because Portland’s food lovers help make farming a viable career for younger farmers, ranchers, and growers. But the graying of farmers is a major concern. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, laid out the problem succinctly when he told NPR, “The average age of the farmer in America today is 57 today. We had a 30 percent increase in the number of farmers over the age of 75 and a 20 percent decrease in the number of farmers under the age of 25.”

Growing Up

Hooping it up

Harry Short is part of the next generation of farmers. Along with his partner Jim, they work Mudjoy Farms, located 5 miles out of Pinot lovin’ Dayton, Oregon, in a community called Unionvale. Located on the valley floor, Harry and Jim have 25 acres of loamy acres they are reclaiming from blackberry brambles on the way to restoring it to a working farm.

Along with youth, new farmers bring imaginative ideas and passion to farming. Harry, by his own admission, is attracted to novelty, explaining how he picks seeds to grow, he says, “It may start in a number of places: a description in a book, a seed catalog, a magazine article, a menu or a visit to someone’s farm.  Varieties of everyday vegetables that have a different color or shape or a new use intrigue me.  For example, this season we will be growing a parsley that is grown for its root and not just its leaves and an eggplant that is grown for its edible leaves and not its fruit.” Adding, “The process of growing out new varieties or new food plants is an adventure, both out in the field and in the kitchen.  But I also believe that we should be eating a more diverse diet for our health.  Each plant has its own mix of nutrients, and it seems to me that a more diverse diet insures that we receive all the nutrients (known and yet to be discovered) we need.”

Zola, Guard Dog at Mudjoy

Zola the Farm Dog looking intently off camera at what may or may not be a treat. Probably a treat.

Not to say that edible eggplant leaves are a bad business model, but Harry who spent his youth in his grandma’s garden growing food for the table, will have plenty of familiar veg to choose from as well, acknowledging, “people might try a new food item now and then, but they always go for their carrots and salad mix.”.

Harry and Mudjoy start this season by bringing their labor and vegetables to Buckman and King, stop by introduce yourself and wish them luck.