MORE THAN FARMING: Young Farmers and the New Food Movement

MORE THAN FARMING

There's a growing movement throughout this country to return to a sustainable way of farming, a holistic way of cultivating the soil, a conscious way of eating, and a more enlightened way of looking at our relationship with food. And within that movement, incredibly inspiring work is being carried out by young farmers. These highly-motivated, intelligent, idealistic, and sometimes unconventional folks are both carrying the torch passed on by their predecessors, and blazing a new sustainable trail into the future. And their numbers are growing every day. In fact, our home here in Southern Oregon is especially blessed with a multitude of industrious and inspiring young farmers. Leading the way are Josh Cohen and Melissa Matthewson of Barking Moon Farm, a certified organic farm located in the Thompson Creek watershed of the Applegate Valley.

Since 2006 Josh and Melissa have been growing certified organic vegetables and producing certified organic eggs on their property in the Applegate. They run a Community Supported Agriculture program and sell their produce and eggs through the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative, at two Ashland Farmers Markets (Tuesday and Saturday), and at local grocery stores and restaurants. But leaving their ability to grow amazing produce aside, the most impressive thing about them is the work they do to expand and strengthen the sustainable farming community in our region.

MD: As young farmers yourselves, how do you view the future of small-scale sustainable farming in the Rogue Valley and throughout the country?

Josh and Melissa: I think it is the career choice of the future. Of now. Right now. It isn't easy work and can be very grueling both physically and mentally, and it isn't easy to start a farm business in terms of economics either. But I think the reason there are so many amazing, persistent and passionate young people wanting to farm out there is because it is intellectually stimulating work and meaningful. I think more and more people are getting interested in where their food comes from and there is nothing more that this country needs than more healthy, young, able farmers to feed them.

MD: I am so impressed with the work you are doing off the farm with the League of Women Farmers and with Rogue Farm Corps. Can you tell us about what you do when you’re not growing or selling vegetables?

Melissa: Well, as an OSU Extension Agent off the farm, I'm continually working with new farmers. We coordinate a League of Women Farmers that meets often to network, learn and exchange information with each other. Most recently this summer, the OSU Extension was given a grant by the Organic Farming Research Foundation to host four field days for women farmers on the challenges and issues on Organic Certification in this region. We will also be training women farmers on carpentry this year, and hopefully we will do welding and tractor training next year. We have over 75 women farmers, both new and established, that participate in the group.

We also hold an 8-week business planning course called Growing Farms in which we help new farmers develop a plan for their farm. And if we can secure the funding, we will be launching a farmer incubator program in partnership with THRIVE and the Friends of Family Farmers, in which new farmers go through our Growing Farms course and then get set up on OSU Extension land to start their new farming enterprises.

Josh and Melissa: At Barking Moon Farm, we host two interns that live and work with us each season, from March through October. They learn all aspects of running a farm: soil, field prep, greenhouse, planting, harvesting, marketing, as well as all the business skills associated with running a farm such as insurance, bookkeeping, etc. We provide the interns with housing, food, a stipend, and lots of other perks.

We also are a part of Rogue Farm Corps, an internship and education program in the valley with about 10 participating farms. We teach parts of the Rogue Farm Corps curriculum, this year focusing on the intricacies of pastured poultry and Community Supported Agriculture. Our hope is that the interns will take all the skills they learn on our farm and begin new farms of their own in the future, or take those skills and apply in them in other managerial farm situations. While training and working with interns for 8 months of the year takes a lot of effort, we actually love this part of our farm and really develop close relationships with our interns. We are passionate about teaching and providing new skills to potential young farmers.

MD: Wow! What is it that drives you both to do what you do, every day?

Melissa: We love the work of farming. It definitely isn't the money that drives us to farm. It really is the good work that we are doing, the meaning of it all, and the belief that we are making an impact on our community. It is pretty darn addicting as well. I just can't stop talking about it.

Full interview will be available on http://returntotradition.wordpress.com/

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