SALINAS, Calif. - The number of farmers under the age of 35 nationwide is increasing for only the second time in the last 100 years, according to the Department of Agriculture. The Monterey County Farm Bureau confirmed they are also certainly seeing a lot more millennial farmers, entering a field in need of manpower.
Troy Clark, a Salinas-based farmer, wakes with the sun and can often be seen working well after dark.
"I do a lot of farming with a flashlight right now, peas, broccoli, mustard greens, kale,” Clark said.
The long hours aren't a problem, Clark feels a connection with his produce and the outdoors. At age 29 he is part of a growing movement of young farmers.
“I’ve come across some numbers that the average age of a farmer is 65 plus, so I mean so they are all retiring so someone has got to feed America,” Clark said.
According to a 2014 USDA Census, the number of farmers 25 to 34 grew 2.2 percent (2,384 farmers) between 2007 and 2012. It’s not enough to replace all of the aging farmers. The industry lost about 100,000 farmers, age 45 and 54 over the same period. But according to Nathan Harkleroad with Agriculture and Land-based Training Association (ALBA), the increase in young farmers is making a difference, especially when it comes to organic farming. Twenty years ago sales were in the range of $2 billion or $3 billion annually, according to Harkleroad. This year, sales are expected to break $20 billion.
"Young people tend to be more environmentally aware and are motivated by some of these environmental issues," said Harkleroad. "In some cases that is what brings them back to this idea of farming."
ALBA is a nonprofit on 100 acres of land in Salinas. In a one-year program people like Clark get trained in organic growing. The nonprofit then leases small plots of land to graduates. In the last two years ALBA has seen their average age go from 36 to 31. Part of the reason for the increase is because of a program with Hartnell College.
“That relationship has gotten healthier and we have a more heavy stream of college students those are mostly agriculture production, ag business students,” Harkleroad said.
Even though there is a growing number of these younger farmers, there is still an uphill battle even on the Central Coast. The executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau said they still need more people to join the industry. They are working with schools like Hartnell and California State University, Monterey Bay to convince agricultural students to stay in the area after graduation.