The next generation of farmers in the U.S., by and large, will not have not grown up on farms. They will not be inheriting land or taking over a business as in the past. They will start fresh-faced out of college or from an internship. They may have volunteered with World Wide Opportunities on organic farms or may have come to farming as a second career.
However circuitous their decision, these folks will determine the future of food security in the nation. And the next decade is especially critical for these new farmers because, according to the USDA, 70 percent of the current farmland will transition in the next 15 years as aging farmers retire and sell their properties. The average age of farmers, is 58.
To help understand this dynamic transition of farmers and farmland, PCC Farmland Trust will present “Cultivating the Next Generation of Farmers” on Saturday, May 14, with Nash Huber and his team from Nash’s Organic Produce. The tour visits the fields of Delta Farm in Sequim — the trust’s first preserved property — and will include a discussion on transitioning a farming business to the next generation.
The tour includes bus transportation around the Dungeness Valley to visit many of the 400 acres managed by the farm, as well as a farm-fresh lunch in the historical Dungeness Schoolhouse.
Participants will hear about innovative plant breeding and the importance of preserving organic seed for the future from the North Olympic Land Trust, Organic Seed Alliance and Tilth Producers of Washington.
Nash’s Organic Produce was the fourth farm to be certified organic in Washington and also is certified salmon-safe. Huber received the American Farmland Trust’s 2008 Steward of the Land award as well as the 2010 Steward of Sustainable Agriculture award from the Ecological Farming Association.
Huber realizes that he won’t be around forever. In order for the farm and business to continue successfully, he works to pass on his vast knowledge and experience to a new generation of farmers.
More than a decade ago he found a young audience hungry to discard the industrial agriculture model and glean knowledge from an experienced organic farmer.
Huber believes that training them to farm in a sustainable way is as important as the farming itself and today his crew manages the farm’s day-to-day operations. He is working on a method to transition the business to the young farmers, so they eventually can take over ownership.
Cultivating a career
Huber grew up on a small family farm in Illinois. In those days, all agriculture was organic but during his youth the chemical-based system that’s known today became established in the Midwest. He majored in chemistry in college and did research in high-fructose corn syrup after he graduated, but he grew itchy to return the soil. So in 1969 he moved to Sequim and started to farm in a place where the climate allows agriculture year-round.
“We have extremely fan-tastic soils,” Huber says. “A lot of it has to do with the mineral content of Dungeness River water. Dungeness Valley milk has the highest butterfat content in the state. It’s also the reason our carrots are so sweet.”
Huber wanted to produce healthy food for his new community and for the environment; he knew that meant growing it organically, the way his grandparents had taught him to do. He founded Nash’s Organic Produce in 1979 with small garden-sized plots that he rented or borrowed. Over the years the farm expanded and today Huber and his team lease more than 380 acres from nine landlords. About 60 percent of that land has conservation easements on it and is protected from future development.
The seed for PCC Farmland Trust originated when Huber saw a real estate ad in 1999 for Delta Farm: “Rare 100-acre farm in Sequim! This beautiful property has been surveyed into five-plus acre parcels.
Outstanding views of the Olympics and neighboring farmland. Approximately 30 acres in wetlands. Lots of possibilities here.”
Having farmed in the region for years, Huber knew firsthand how valuable the land was — so he hatched a proposal with PCC Natural Markets and a new nonprofit was born.
Tours of this nature are only available at the farms every few years and typically they sell out. This year’s tour features two special add-ons. Nash’s semiannual barn dance and potluck will be held in the evening after the tour for all who would like to attend. New this year will be a Sunday brunch May 15 with Huber at Alder Wood Bistro in Sequim. This intimate brunch will feature local, organic food and a panel discussion with the farmers and chef Gabriel Schuenemann.
The trust also will “pass the hat” to raise funds for the Future Farm Fund to purchase organic agricultural conservation easements.
This year’s media and partner sponsors include KUOW-FM, North Olympic Land Trust, First Federal and Alder Wood Bistro.