It was just over two years ago now that a young man from Bradmer Foods tracked me down with an interesting idea. He had heard about the newly formed UNFI Foundation and wanted to talk to me about broadening the impact. It was on a cold and blustery autumn day that I met this stranger for a delectable locavore Maryland lunch where we discussed a few big ideas. On the table: the most pressing issue of the day for organic agriculture was the lack of supply and the decline of the number of organic farmers. The question: How could organic companies come together to make the greatest impact on that issue? The Future Organic Farmers Grant Fund, born over an organic kale salad, is now a reality and aims to assist young people entering the field of organic agriculture.
According to the USDA census data U.S. farmers are aging, and our nation faces declining numbers of people entering this age old profession. The average age of principal farm operators in the U.S. is 58.3 years old, nearly early an eight year increase since 1982. Even more troubling is the decline in new farmers. “In 2012, the number of new farmers who have been on their current operation less than ten years is down 20 percent from 2007.”
The supply of organic ingredients and crops in the U.S. continues to be outpaced by demand and one of the reasons is linked to the lack of new organic producers. There are multiple barriers in becoming an organic farmer. Education, technical skills, access to land and assistance with transition are all hurdles new organic growers face. Another less talked about, but certainly relevant hurdle is the cultural component. If our youth grow up learning the basics of organic agro-ecology they are much more likely to become sturdy new farmers and ranchers.
The Future Organic Farmers Grant Fund is a collaboration of concerned businesses and individuals striving to provide direct financial assistance to the next generation of organic farmers. California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) Foundation and its partners NCG, UNFI Foundation, Driscoll’s, Organic Valley, Lauren and Eric Schiermeyer, and Clif Bar Family Foundation are supporters. Now, in only its second year, the size of the Fund has doubled to nearly $100,000. It will provide direct financial support to teachers and students.
Twenty $2,500 grants will be made to support vocational and higher education students enrolled in educational programs that will benefit their future careers in the organic industry.
The current call for applications is open NOW until May 15, 2015. Certified K-8 grade teachers throughout the nation as well as vocational and higher education students are eligible to apply.
If you know a teacher or a higher education student who would be interested in this opportunity send them directly to http://www.ccof.org/foundation/fofgf.
Ultimately, we all want to increase the supply of organic, which continues to be outpaced by demand. Investing in the next generation of organic producers ensures the continued health of this industry and the important benefits it brings to our communities, the economy and the environment.