Today’s post features text of a speech delivered by Sabrina Lucero at the 2017 New Mexico State FFA Convention, where Sabrina took second place in prepared public speaking. Her witty explanation of the need for local farmers highlights why recent food and health care trends are creating unprecedented windows of opportunity for careers in agriculture. To learn more about the Centennial FFA Chapter, visit their Facebook Page.
In the 21st century, we are witnessing some disturbing trends that threaten life as we know it. We hear daily about the decline of honeybees. We mourn the polar bears, whose melting ice caps change their hunting and living prospects. We send donations to save stray dogs, whales, tigers, and wolves. But, the species most critical to the growth of our civilization-the species whose actions impact the health and nutrition of every man, woman, and child on the planet, is not protected by the Endangered Species Act. This species is the farmer. Threatened by habitat loss, climate change, and urbanization, the number of farms and the number of farmers has been declining steadily for over a century. Today, with world populations threatening to exceed 10 billion in my lifetime, world governments are recognizing what former USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan calls “…an epidemic of sorts sweeping across U.S. farmland.” In an era when global populations exceed an all time high, a recent agricultural census shows the fastest growing group of farmers includes people over the age of 65. This reality hits close to home, with New Mexico showing the highest average age of farmers in the United States.
“…the species most critical to the growth of our civilization-the species whose actions impact the health and nutrition of every man, woman, and child on the planet, is not protected by the Endangered Species Act.”
Why does the loss of farmers concern me? Ladies and gentlemen, the fact is, I eat. I eat daily. It’s necessary for the body. And when I don’t eat, let’s face it, I don’t perform well. But, I’m not alone in this need. Not-so-secret government surveys reveal the universal truth that more than 7 billion people living on the planet today eat. And the vast majority of these people do so daily. Now, we get excited about the market penetration of iPhones and Snapchat. We say these technologies are good for the economy. But, can you imagine for a moment, an economy without food?
“Not-so-secret government surveys reveal the universal truth that more than 7 billion people living on the planet today eat.”
Most of us have a hard time looking at the effects of lost farms when our bellies are full and we are surrounded by fast foods and restaurants. But, local farms and the farmers that run them are the backbone of every economy, and their disappearance should alarm us all. In the next few minutes, I am going to show you how local farmers benefit the economy, why the local food movement offers opportunity for new farmers, and what community leaders like you can do to encourage more people to consider a future in farming.
Local food is good for the economy. The loss of local farms reduces the local multiplier effect so critical to the strength of any economy. We lose farm income, and income that would otherwise go to supporting industries like banks, machine shops, feed stores, and farm services. We also lose access to fresh, local food which greatly impacts spending on healthcare by increasing dependence on processed foods that contain less nutrition. When people eat processed food daily, they are more prone to long term health problems and chronic disease. This is crippling our economy today. On average, Americans are spending just under $10,000 per person per year on healthcare.This means a family of four can be spending $40,000 on healthcare alone. In fact, this access to local food is so important for disease prevention that the US Centers for Disease Control actually tracks access to local farmer’s markets and food hubs in its health statistics data.
The local food movement is creating opportunities for local farmers. Consumers in urban and rural areas alike are awakening to the reality that their rising healthcare costs and declining economic opportunities are related to where their food comes from. Farmer’s markets are popping up in New York City, and on the Beltway in Washington DC. Some of these are supported by rooftop gardens and even maintained by volunteers. Federal agencies like USDA are promoting the need for young farmers. State agencies like the New Mexico Department of Agriculture are supporting programs like Agrifutures to encourage young people to enter farming. These early signs that the tide is turning suggest now may be the opportunity of a lifetime for young people interested in farming. However, in a world that encourages young millennials to work for big companies in urban areas, can we recruit new farmers quickly enough to supply the rapidly growing demand for local food? The answer lies with you.
Here are some steps community leaders can take to ensure that more young people successfully engage in agricultural pursuits. First, we can change policies that prohibit young people from working on farms and policies that restrict agricultural activities in our communities. Farming is difficult, and people learn best by doing. When young people grow up feeding chickens, tending livestock, driving tractors, and irrigating fields, they gain critical experience that prepares them for success in agriculture. Policies that prevent property owners from keeping chickens and rabbits in neighborhoods, or that prevent farmers from hiring their teenage grandkids to help load hay bales also restrict opportunities for budding farmers to gain experience. Next, we can improve agricultural education in schools. We need to make sure that vocational agriculture programs, traditionally threatened by common core directives, receive at least as much support as sports programs and other extracurricular activities. Third, we need to build ties between agricultural education programs and local farmers so that ag students can find internships and jobs that place them with mentors and provide growth opportunities. Finally, we need to promote locally grown food in health and nutrition programs, so that consumers and healthcare providers understand why it matters where and how your food was produced.
“Policies that prevent property owners from keeping chickens and rabbits in neighborhoods…also restrict opportunities for budding farmers to gain experience.”
Now, I recognize that the declining number of farmers has historically been replaced by technological breakthroughs that have made it possible to produce more food on fewer farms. The need for these technologies will continue. However, the changing demands for better health, sustainability, local food, and local economic opportunities, combined with the aging demographic of existing farmers all add up to real needs for new farmers. I challenge community leaders to embrace this need by creating suitable habitats where new farmers can thrive.
“Is Local More Nutritious?” The Center for Health and the Global Environment. Accessed January 15, 2017.
Shortage of Farmers Creates ‘Dangerous Situation’ for U.S. Koba, Mark. NBCNews.com. April 15, 2014. Accessed January 15, 2017.
“The Need for New Farmers.” Small Farms Programs. Accessed January 15, 2017.
“Shortage of U.S. Farmers Reaching Epidemic Proportions: USDA Official.” Iowa Farmer Today. April 12, 2012. Accessed January 15, 2017.
“Why the Local Multiplier Effect Always Counts.” by Tricia Truit, Earth and Sky Collective. Accessed January 15, 2017.