Future Farmers of America?

The average age of the American farmer is 57 years old.

In the last post we wrote about Home Ec and how it’s one way young people can be involved in gardening and sustainability.  But, outside of middle and high school, who are the future farmers of America? What is their effect on the sustainable gardening movement and how might they be the best bet for bringing gardening practice to low-income communities?

First, let’s suss out who GenY is. Sometimes called the Millenials, Generation Next, Echo Boomers…  Okay, it’s generally all the people born between 1978 – 1995, or thereabouts.  They’ve been hearing the message about being Green and sustainable, from a very young age.  One third are multicultural with nearly 45% identifying as either Latino or Black.  They’re apparently really interested in gardening, too.  But not the way their parents and grandparents have been.

Last year at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts festival, a National Gardening Association survey found a 28% increase in gardening among people 18-34 years old.  In that survey, 90% of the Millenials said they were involved in some kind of gardening.

Some argue that the Bonnaroo kids surveyed are of a “certain” demographic and don’t accurately reflect the overall interest of everyone in the group. Indeed, the music festival bunch has been described as: a “new-millennium hippie variety: J. Crew-clad weekend warriors, tie-dyed longhairs and the ubiquitous trustafarians—white kids with dreadlocks and their folks’ credit cards.” (Man, isn’t every new generation some kind of hippie?)

But we do know that as a group, GenY is Millenials are buying Green cars, Green clothes, Green this and Green that…and seem to be really into Green green. They pay attention to companies that have sustainable and/or socially responsible messages, and those born in the 1990’s tend to highly influence their parents’ eco purchases.

We’re thinking about how the gardening interest of these “kids” is useful in our work with low-income residents.

One thing that stands out about GenY the Millenials is a collective interest in acting with sustainability in mind. They’re more philanthropic, and, of course, using more technology to make things happen.  Looking at their gardening habits, one finds innovative use of land. Gardens and farming are done less on large rural farms and more in urban settings. The garden isn’t an art piece, it’s a product. It is another way that they can express their social responsibility, philanthropy and lifestyle choices.

How can we tap into this different way of gardening? How do we bring those ideals into low-income communities? First, we can remember that this group is tech savvy, loving the process, with an expectation of immediate results. But a garden is not fast. That means satisfaction might be drawn from using technology to advance the process – how to grow what, and how much, where; how am I contributing to sustainability; how is the community benefiting; what connections can be made between communities and between myself and communities; what good can be done with the garden harvest; etc. etc.

With networks in place, these future farmers are in position to create and sustain far-reaching and diverse connections in our urban gardens.  Oh, and in case you wanted to know, all those up-and-coming elementary school gardeners are members of the iGen.

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