By DOUG WARNOCK
For the Capital Press
A group of new, young agricultural producers filled the speaker list at the 2011 annual conference of the Quivira Coalition, which met in Albuquerque, N.M., in early November. The New Agrarians was the theme of this year's program where men and women, all under the age of 40, showed their enthusiasm for food production and told how they got their start in agriculture.
The Quivira Coalition, celebrating its 10th annual conference, is a group of ranchers, conservationists, scientists and public land managers who meet and work together to learn about and promote sustainable management of the land. Its headquarters is in Santa Fe, N.M., and while many of its members are from the Southwest, it reaches into all the Western states. The coalition has evolved to meet changing values, markets and needs in society and continues to emphasize its core values, which are grassroots relationships, land health, collaboration and innovation.
This year's program included a diversity of speakers both in terms of type of agriculture and location. Ben Forsyth manages a 1.3 million-acre cattle ranch in Australia and Annie Novak operates a rooftop vegetable farm in Brooklyn, N.Y. Nikiko Matsumoto helps her family manage a fruit and vegetable farm in the central valley of California, while Bryce Andrews manages a cattle ranch in Montana.
These are just a few of the bright, young people who have come into agriculture recently. The program also included firsthand accounts from apprentices who were provided an opportunity to work and learn about agriculture by coalition members with established and successful operations.
Agrarians are defined by the Quivira leaders as people who are close to the land, want to know their customers and support a sound local economy while making a profit from the land. In this country there is a resurging interest in local, family farms and ranches that manage land in a sustainable manner.
Sustainability is defined as having the triple bottom line, profit, planet and people. In other words, making a reasonable profit, enhancing the health of the earth and maintaining the wellbeing of the people.
They promote healthy, resilient ecosystems and work for restoring eroded areas, improving degraded streams and enhancing the diversity of the plants and animals living on the land. The new agrarians are energetic and passionate people, who are looking to the future and want to ensure the future viability of our land and natural resources.
The Quivira Coalition reports that in the United States there are six farmers over 65 years of age for each farmer under 35. The average age of farmers is 57. For some time, agriculture in this country has been concerned about having enough younger people entering farming and ranching to ensure adequate production of food and fiber.
The intelligence, dedication and enthusiasm of the young agrarians present at the conference gave Quivira Coalition members hope of a bright future for agriculture.
Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, now lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he consults and writes on ranch management.