Beginning farmers join the most important profession

Emily Cooper, of Full Cellar Farm, is in her fifth year of the incubator farm program at Headwaters Farm near Portland, Ore.

Hats off to Irina Schabram, Nicki Passarella, Emily Cooper and the thousands of other new farmers who are joining the world’s most important profession: agriculture.

We do not exaggerate when we describe agriculture as the top profession. If you think something else is more important, ask yourself this: Can we do without it?

Can we do without accountants? Probably.

Can we do without lawyers? Definitely.

Can we do without politicians? You answer that one.

And now the big question: Can we do without farmers? Anyone who thinks society can do without the people who grow the food we eat and the fiber we wear is deluded. Farming — agriculture — goes hand-in-hand with civilization. Since the first seeds were planted about 10,000 years ago, agriculture has allowed people to specialize. Instead of everyone being hunter-gatherers, some could grow food and others could do other things. Out of that division of labor has grown great societies.

But without farmers, it would have all come crashing down.

Only a few years ago, those who wanted to learn about farming had only a few choices: They could do it the hard way, by trial and error. Or they could learn about it in 4-H or FFA or through colleges and universities. Otherwise, they would need help from a mentor, a parent or other relative, or a neighbor.

Without help, the odds against any new farmer succeeding were steep.

Nowadays, the number of options has increased dramatically. In addition to formal training, university extension services, the USDA, state departments of agriculture, nonprofits and financial institutions all offer help to new farmers. With that help, new farmers can find suitable land, determine what to grow and how to grow it and learn how to maintain equipment, how to market crops and how to finance the whole operation.

No business has more moving parts than a farm. And a farmer is the person who keeps them all moving.

Some nonprofits and other organizations such as soil and water conservation districts have even established farm incubators, which provide new farmers with affordable land, equipment, expertise — everything they need to succeed.

One such incubator is Headwaters Farm near Portland, Ore., operated by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. There people such as Schabram, Passarella and Cooper can build on the skills they learned during farm internships and establish their own farms.

It is a proven formula for success. Near Bellingham, Wash., Cloud Mountain Farm Center also operates a farm incubator and offers internships that allow aspiring farmers to learn from the ground up. Other incubators operate around the nation.

With that help, the odds are with new farmers. Not all will succeed, but the likelihood of success goes way up.

These new farmers deserve support and encouragement. They are part of the future of the most important profession in the world.

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