Meet Sophie Ackoff, co-executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. Sophie is spearheading the effort to address a looming crisis: the aging out of America’s farmers. Today, the average age of the U.S. farmer is nearly 60 years old, and farmers over 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by more than six to one. Sophie gave Mission Matters the scoop on what the Young Farmers’ Coalition is doing to support a new generation of farmers—and what you can do to help.
Q: How did you become an advocate for young farmers?
A: I started organizing young farmers as a farmer myself. So many of the challenges that we face as young farmers are structural challenges: challenges like land access, student loan debt, racial inequities and climate change. These issues can't be solved by our hard work alone. We need structural solutions, and that's why we started a national coalition to leverage our voices to make change on the federal level.
Q: Seems like there are a lot of young people who are keen to farm. What’s the problem?
A: Our nation's farmers are aging out and retiring. The average age of the US farmer is nearly 60 years old, and farmers over 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by more than six to one.
Americans take for granted that there will be farmers. But 40 percent of our nation's farmland is set to transition in the next 15 years, and most farmers don't have successors lined up to take over the family farm. We're facing a crisis in agriculture where we don't have enough young people.
Q: Or young farmers of color…
A: Exactly! Ninety five percent of our nation's farmers are white and this is not an accident. This is the result of centuries of racist farm policy that has dictated who can farm in this country. Over the last century alone, black farmers lost 80 to 90 percent of their land.
This is a situation in which young farmers of color can't make it in agriculture. They don't have the land and capital to inherit from their families. And so that's why our coalition has shifted to support BIPOC farmers--Black, Indigenous and people of color farmers--because for them, the issues are compounded and the odds are stacked against them.
Q: What is your next big activation?
A: This year’s Farm Bill. If you’re not familiar with the Farm Bill, it’s a piece of legislation that dictates all the food and agriculture policy, and it's only passed once every five years.
And so we are going to show up strong in Washington, D.C. to win the structural change that our farmers deserve. We're going to have in-district meetings where farmers show members of Congress, their farms and what they need for their farms to succeed. We're going to fly farmers to Washington, D.C. to gather on the Capitol, have meetings with their members, and ask for our priorities to be included in the next farm bill. We're going to have a National Fellowship program. We're going to pay 100 hundred farmers to advocate for a change in the farm bill, which we've never done before.
Q: What can we little people do to help?
A: If you want to support young farmers, buy from them directly. See if you can purchase a CSA where you pay for your vegetables at the beginning of the season and give young farmers the cash when they need it the most.
And get involved politically. Call your members of Congress and see what they're doing for young farmers in your district. See if they'll support land access for young farmers and farmers of color.
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