Younger Farmers Targeted

Organizations are raising money for people who want to go into the business

BY JUAN-CARLOS RODRIGUEZ Journal Staff Writer

Ethan Genauer, a 27-year-old transplant from the New Jersey suburbs, wants to be a farmer. He spent most of the past year helping out at farms in the South Valley.

"Ultimately, I would love to have some land," Genauer said.

But Genauer said the high price of land is one of the biggest obstacles for a prospective farmer to overcome.

"And another obstacle for people who still want to farm but don't have money for land, especially young people, is that wages are pretty poor and it can be hard to find jobs," Genauer said. "I think if the wages were better that would attract more young people."

Still, Genauer said he knows of other people who want to take the plunge.

"There are more and more young people that are picking up a passion for farming," Genauer said.

A few local agriculture organizations are stepping in and passing the hat to help pay prospective farmers' ways to an upcoming farming conference.

The New Mexico Organic Farming Conference is scheduled from Feb. 29 to March 1 in Albuquerque. It will provide farmers and those interested in farming a chance to learn about different aspects of the business, such as marketing, growing techniques, water issues and a variety of other topics.

The fee is $100, but scholarships for aspiring farmers are being solicited by Farm to Table, a New Mexico nonprofit that promotes local agriculture, and the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission, a state agency that regulates and promotes organic agriculture.

Le Adams, co-director of Farm to Table, said most farmers are on the older side of life, with an average age of 58.

"We've been trying for a long time to figure out a way to provide scholarships to young people who might be interested in getting into the business of farming," Adams said. "We don't have enough new people coming into farming."

Joan Quinn, education and marketing coordinator for the New Mexico Organic Commodities Commission, also said there is a dearth of young people in agriculture these days.

"One of the things you'll notice if you go to any gathering of farmers is a lot of gray hair," Quinn said. "What we're trying to do with this scholarship fund is reach out to those people who are interested and help them make contacts with people who are involved in organic farming."

She said the lack of a real economic incentive to farm is another hurdle facing those who want to sustain agriculture in the region.

"Part of the problem is, over the last few generations, a lot of farmers looked at how close they were to the edge, financially, and wanted to get their kids out of that," Quinn said. "So we're in a situation now where what would have been the next generation of farmers has been driven in a different direction."

Quinn said there are more opportunities opening up for farmers, especially organic ones, as the population becomes more aware of where their food comes from and how healthy it is. Some restaurants, grocers and schools now buy some of their produce locally and Quinn said that is a growing market.

She also gave another reason for young people to become interested in farming.

"You'll never go hungry," Quinn said.

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