|Kids planting in a raised bed at MOFGA's Farm and Homestead Day in June. English photo.
By Barbara Damrosch, MOFGA president
Look at the map of Maine and what do you see? A large state. Not very many people in it. Unused, cleared land that could be farmed. No wonder people are looking up this way when they wonder how New England will feed itself in an uncertain future.
Where will all the new farmers come from? From everywhere, it seems. Each year more young people than ever sign up for MOFGA’s apprenticeship program, and for the journeyperson program that matches new farmers with successful farming mentors, as well as instruction at our Education Center in Unity. A number of them are from out of state, but lately I’ve noticed more and more young natives looking to stay on their home soil and make it grow food.
Sometimes it seems like a big thing to ask the new generation to feed us, and without chemical shortcuts, at that. We can offer them the tools to help realize their dreams, but it’s still a lot of hard work. They have the land, they have the barn, and then they have – children. You can’t hop on the tractor all day with a toddler in tow, and no money for childcare. The days when everyone lived in an extended farm family, with plenty of grandparents and older siblings to pitch in, are gone. How do young farm parents manage?
The answers vary. For some, a value-added product that can be made in the home or the yard is the answer. Another person might swap part-time babysitting for farm produce. But the best stories are about the involvement of children in farm life. The father who starts seedlings with his daughter on his lap, and gives her a flat of rejects to “plant.” The 4-year-old who embraces the job of egg-gathering each day, carefully bringing them into the house and announcing her daily total. The 7-year-old who markets his lettuce crop to teachers at his Maine island school. On this score, every farm parent tells me the same thing: that they give their kids their own plot to “farm,” even if it’s just a sandbox filled with potting soil. As they grow, so does the usefulness of their work and the pride they take in it. In that sense it’s still like the old days, because they’re learning the job at their mother or father’s knee.
Two for the price of one. Teach one generation to farm, and you get two.