America’s heartland is graying. The average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 58.3 — and that number has been steadily ticking upward for more than 30 years.
Overall, fewer young people are choosing a life on the land. But in some places around the country, like Maine, that trend is reversing. Small agriculture may be getting big again — and there’s new crop of farmers to thank for it.
Fulfilling Work, Noble Work
On a windy hillside just a few miles from Maine’s rocky mid-coast, it’s 10 degrees; snow is crunching underfoot. Hairy highland cattle munch on flakes of hay and native Katahdin sheep are mustered in a white pool just outside the fence. Not far away, heritage chickens scuttle about a mobile poultry house that looks a bit like a Conestoga wagon.
Marya Gelvosa, majored in English literature and has never lived out in the country before. “Just a few years ago, if you’d told me that I was going to be a farmer, I would have probably laughed at you,” she says.
But Gelvosa and her partner, Josh Gerritsen, a New York City photographer, have thrown all their resources into this farm, where they provide a small local base of customers with beef, lamb and heritage poultry. Gerritsen says their livelihood now ties them to a community.
“Living in the city, you commute by subway, you buy your food at the supermarket, you work in a cubicle all day,” he says. “You’re not intimately tied to anything.”
Gelvosa and Gerritsen are part of a generation for whom global warming has been hanging overhead like the sword of Damocles. In fact, all the young farmers interviewed for this story mentioned environmental health and climate change as factors in choosing a life on the land.
It’s a generation that has grown up in the digital age, but embraced some very old-school things: the farmers market, craft beer, artisan cheese. The point, they say, is to find a way to live high-quality, sustainable lives, and help others do the same.
“It’s very fulfilling work,” Gelvosa says, “and noble work.”