Never have we experienced this situation before- a shortage of farmers!

In a 1787 letter to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.” For nearly two centuries, most people seemed to agree.

But in the last 50 years, the introduction of commercial fertilizer has meant that less land was needed to produce the same amount of food.  The introduction of larger, more efficient farm equipment has reduced the number of farmers needed and has held down the price of farm goods.

In the last 30 years, schools in Maryland have stopped teaching about farming. Young farmers groups have dwindled or faded away. Many farms no longer have heirs who wish to farm. To maintain an “agricultural use assessment” on their lands, land owners have been leasing their land. Commodity farmers (corn, soybeans, wheat, etc.) are in need of ever-increasing acreages to compete with even larger farms in the Midwest.

However, in the last two decades, direct-to-consumer marketing has been returning. These farmers have been receiving a larger  percentage of the food dollar. The number of farmers markets has grown 260% since 1994. Commodity prices have also increased in the last few years. There is a shortage of farmers.

Recently, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack called for 100,000 new farmers. The U.S. farm population is aging rapidly and most of the younger family members aren’t stepping up to farm the properties. For every six farmers over 65 years old, there is only one between 25 to 35 years old and the demand for locally sourced food will generate the need for even more small-scale farms.

We need to cultivate a new generation of farmers — and quickly.

Next week, who will be our new farmers?