Erin Southwood was practically raised in the garden. Her family had an urban garden when she was growing up and her grandparents and extended relatives also had farms, so it was a natural fit for Erin to have a garden in her small urban yard.
Many of us can relate to this statement… substitute the word “grandparents” for “aunt and uncle”, or “neighbor” or whichever it was for you:
“My fondest childhood memories were spent at my grandparent’s farm.”
This brings to mind another favorite topic here at GardensAll, and that’s gardening with children, and getting kids involved in the garden. After all, kids and dirt go hand-in-hand, and if they learn while young, they’re learning so much more than just how to plant a seed.1)https://www.gardensall.com/kids-gardening-and-growing-memories-that-last/
Today, more people than ever are getting into growing their own food. From growing food on patios, to yard gardens to family farms, the return to the country and farming is trending steadily upward.
The New Farmers — a Return to the Family Farm
A growing number of millennials are the fastest growing generation developing an interest in gardening, along with their Gen X “elders” and Baby Boomer parents.
Some empty nest Baby Boomers are downsizing as they head into retirement. Others are spreading their wings, reinventing themselves by turn hobbies and interests into businesses. Some are investing retirement savings into tangible investments such as land, real estate and farming.
Many Boomers are cognizant that they need to provide for their own retirement security through endeavors they enjoy that will also provide income or at least supplement their retirement budget. Some are doing it for the additional income, some to stay engaged in a productive and purposeful life doing work they love. Beyond need though, the growing body of baby boomers are creating their next “career” or business or hobby by reinventing rather than retiring from life.2)http://boomersreinvented.com/
The timing is perfect.
A Perfect Storm of Opportunity
While many things in the world today seem to be going wrong, transitioning or broken, the good news is that many things are also going right.
It the wake of one of the greatest political upheavals and divisiveness of all times, there are many, many people spending countless hours in criticism, lamenting, worrying and even hateful speech and spreading of memes—often false—online. This happens in all parties, both sides of the fence, like a national family feud.
If all that time and energy could be harnessed for the good… for creating solutions and productive work, our world would be a different place today.
Gardeners learn that some weeds need to be pulled, but the best results in the garden come from focusing on the plants you want to grow. Focus on the good and you’ll have more of that. That’s our favorite thing to do. Focus on what we want more of and the rest tends to take care of itself, or with a lot less effort.
The good news is that many things today are going right.
We’re inspired and energized by this growing trend of people returning to the family farm, even if they are the first generation in their family to do it. It’s the concept of a widespread renewal of this rewarding and needed resource. Not only that, but steadily increasing numbers of urbanites are growing their own food as well.
Imagine if all the billions spent on lawn care… maintenance, herbicides, mowing, etc., was invested in cultivating gardens and edible landscapes? That simple thing available to anyone with a yard… or a patio, is a HUGE solution to many of the problems of today.
Why this is the Perfect Time for the Family Farm
- Working with the soil is therapeutic and healthy
- A return to a simpler, calmer life
- A great place to raise and educate children
- A return to wholesome family values
- Working together as a family on the farm teaches many lesson
- life’s lessons
- nature’s cycles
- self sufficiency
- nurturing and caring for plants, animals and each other
- how to grow, harvest and prepare food
- where “real food” comes from!
- how to run a family business (e.g., visit a Farmer’s Market and see kids handling customers and cash, etc)
- Cheap access to the freshest, organic food
- Independence and self-sufficiency
- Freedom to be ones own boss
- Significantly reduced food bill – able to feed the family from what one grows
- Millennials are seeking a simpler life more connected to nature and more independent
- Baby boomers are looking to retire to something more meaningful that they love and for supplemental food and income
- Seniors are looking to downsize so more farms are available for sale
For every Millennial who is getting into farming, more would if only they could. Most of them do not have the land or the money to buy it. Why? College debt for one. Millennials are—rightly—angry at the story they were sold about go to college to get a good job. They’re graduating to a competitive market, often unable to find jobs and yet laden with college debt. But that’s a story for another day and another website. 🤠 🌱
Many small farmers are aging out and often their children are already ensconced in jobs off the farm. This makes sense. Kids who grew up on the farm—or whatever the family is doing—naturally tend to want to experience a different life for awhile. Many end up returning to the farm once they get their craving for new adventures out of their system, which often coincides with them starting their own families. They realize just how good life was on the farm working in nature, and the lure of the city… fighting crowds and traffic to work in cubicles, isn’t all that glamorous after all. Of course some enjoy the faster pace and city lights, suits and manicures, over starry skies, overalls and dirt under the fingernails and choose to keep their new urbanite lifestyles.
The Fertile Ground of Opportunity for Wannabe Farmers
Who owns the majority of small farms? Seniors and Baby Boomers.3)https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Farm_Demographics/
Do you see the emerging theme of opportunity here?
Millennials who want land to farm…
aging farmers who want to downsize and retire.
Sure, most farmers might be best served with an outright cash purchase of their farm. However, sometimes it’s about so much more than money. For many farmers, the farm is their heritage and their legacy.
These farmers might want or need the money from a one-time sale of their farm. But some of them might prefer an arrangement that would allow them to know that the farm was going into good hands.
The farm is their heritage and their legacy.
One of the things I’m naturally wired for is problem solving. Even as a child I was trying to help friends who had problems, often worrying about it and working on solutions long after their (temporary, as it often turned out) drama was over.
I also love it when the problem of one can be the solution of another, and subsequently vice versa. And this… this looming opportunity (aka problem or crisis) is a possible solution for creative thinkers.
Problem: retiring farmers
Problem: people wanting a place to farm
Solution: bring these together.
Someone could probably make a business of matchmaking farms with those who want to farm but don’t have the land. Sometimes it’s strangers and sometimes it’s kin.
A Match Made on the Farm!
Erin is a perfect example of a possible—and even probable—family farm scenario.
Erin and her mother Jamie, both grew up gardening their urban yards. They’ve never farmed, but have fond memories of visiting the farms of relatives growing up.
“I remember summer days spent at my grandparent’s house playing outside in the big dirt pile by his garden.”
When Erin outgrew her urban yard garden, she asked her grandparents if she could have a patch of dirt on their farm. Not only were they delighted to give her a 12’x50’ plot, but Grandpa even tilled it for her!
“My sisters and I would turn our frisbees upside down and fill them to the brim with sour green gooseberries so that we had snacks for a day full of playing.”
Erin got busy growing, and by the second season, she decided to try selling her harvests at the Farmer’s Market. She expanded into an unused portion of her grandparents garden space as well and began to entertain the idea that she might actually be able to do this for a living… and all that on just 1/4 acre to start!
“We sometimes helped grandma shuck corn and snap beans too (but that wasn’t nearly as fun as playing and eating berries).”
So They Bought the Family Farm
In 2016, Grandma and Grandpa announced that it was time for them to downsize to a smaller home. After much deliberation, Erin’s parents decided to buy the homestead rather than see that legacy of the 20 year old farm—and the new growing opportunities—lost to the family.
So the city folks packed up and moved to the country and the next chapter of Erin’s life began. Fortunately, Erin’s mom, Jamie was also up for a new adventure. See this theme unfolding here…? Erin is a Millennial. Jamie is a Baby Boomer. They’re both ripe for a new chapter in life and timing is such that they’re on the same page. Now they’re making memories while building a business together.
Making Memories While Building a Business Together
2017 is their first full year producing on the farm. Mom Jamie, is now Erin’s partner on the new family farm which they’ve aptly christened: Liberty Heritage Gardens.4)https://www.libertyheritagegardens.com/about-us-2/about-us/
Their most recent addition to the farm are several “caterpillar tunnels” for growing food under shelter. You can read more about the technical side of the tunnels they put up here in this article on PlantingForRetirement.com.
If you don’t have a family farm already in your heritage, there are many variations of this scenario, and no limit to creative solutions. For example, some people with extra land to farm, may not have the time or inclination. We’ll post more brainstorming ideas at the end of this article. For now, here’s just one example of something that could actually be a thing.
How to Garden? A Story of Possibilities
This is a hypothetical scenario, of which there could be many real variations.
Imagine a prospering professional couple with more money than time. We’ll name them the Wilsons. The Wilsons have two kids in school and a very busy life between work, school, dance lessons, swim team and golf lessons.
The Wilson’s would love ready access to the freshest, healthiest organic food, but they’ve never gardened and just don’t have the time to at this stage in their lives. They live in a really nice home on an acre or so of land in a very nice private community that’s a quasi rural development of a couple dozen similar home estates built around a golf course.
The Wilson’s even have a guest room over their separate garage. Hmmm…
Joe and Jenny are a young millennial couple who just want to work with nature for a living. They love organic foods, spending time outdoors and working with plants. Joe is studying horticulture and Jenny is studying herbology, both through online courses.
Currently, Jenny and Joe both work at a local garden center where they met. Each day Joe and Jenny come home to a rental house with a tiny yard. Since it’s a rental home, they can’t swap the grass for a vegetable garden, even if the Homeowners Association (HOA) would allow it. Instead, they spend their weekends visiting the Farmer’s Markets for fresh vegetables and to fuel their dream of being market gardeners themselves, while planning what they’ll grow and how they’ll market their booth to make it stand out. They even have garden schematics drawn out and are researching prices and ask lots of questions of the local market vendors.
Jenny and Joe plan and dream of having their own farm in their spare time. For now, they’re having fun planning it, but they long to actually do it.
One day Jenny helps Mrs. Wilson who’s buying fresh herbs at the garden center where Jenny and Joe work. Jenny helps Mrs. Wilson as they strike up quite a conversation on their mutual interest in herbs. Mrs. Wilson says she’d love to have a big garden but doesn’t have time, so she settles for some window herbs and a patio planter of garden tomatoes.
Jenny shares that she too loves gardening and how her and her husband dream of having their own farm and being market gardeners.
A Garden for a Gardener
As Mrs. Wilson is driving home, she reflects on how pleasant was her conversation with Jenny and how she had to leave more plants behind than she could bring home. She just doesn’t have the time to garden at this point in her life.
Mrs. Wilson stops to unload the plants near the garden shed next to their “coach house”, the studio apartment over the garage that serves as their garden shed.
She opens the rear door of her SUV, looks at the few plants in her car, looks up at the empty studio apartment and the large expanse of backyard grass. An idea is germinating.
That even she shares her idea with Mr. Wilson, who after some objections, each overcome convincingly by his wife, agrees to give it a try. The next day Mrs. Wilson returns to the garden center, glad to see Jenny there. Jenny, surprised to see Mrs. Wilson again, immediately approaches to help her, when Mrs. Wilson shares her idea. She feels a little uncomfortable at first because after all Jenny is a practical stranger, but this just feels right.
“Would you be interested in gardening our yard?” I know you want to sell at the Farmer’s Market, so here’s my idea: we have a large yard where you could grow enough food for both our families, and probably still have enough left over to sell at the Farmer’s Market.”
“We could either pay you to create the garden, or, you could garden for us for free in exchange for living in our coach-house studio apartment.” Mrs. Wilson finishes feeling slightly foolish to hear her idea voiced out in the open air in front of a virtual stranger. But she tended to be pretty good with reading people and felt really comfortable around Jenny.
Mrs. Wilson watched as Jenny’s face went from surprise, her mouth dropping, brow furrowed, to a lilting corner turning into a smile and a gleam of hopefulness in her eyes.
“This is a fantastic opportunity!! It’s like you’re an answer to our prayers! I’m sure Joe will go for this too and our rental lease expires soon, so we’ll let you know by tomorrow.” Jenny said as she thanked Mrs. Wilson and impulsively hugged her.
So this is a fictitious story, but it could be real, couldn’t it? There are people with land who can’t or don’t want to garden and farm it, and, there are people who long to garden but just need the land.
Some just need the 12’x50’ plot that Erin started with at her Grandfather’s farm. Some just want to grow their own food, others want to grow enough to sell at the Farmer’s Markets or their own roadside stands.
Whatever your situation, or that of someone you know, consider there’s almost always more than one way to reach your goals.
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