Support local, support young: A millennial's guide to changing the world through food

Written by Nikki Wiart

Millennials have ruined a lot: soap, napkins, diamonds, sex, houses, brunch, wine corks, golf, work. We're lazy. We're entitled. We're impatient. We smush avocado on toast, and we use the word salty in a way our parents could have never predicted.

But even though we don't buy bars of soap anymore, we are changing the way people think about their food, and about the farmer who produces it. For the first time since 1991, the number of farmers in Canada under the age of 35 has actually grown: from 24,120 in 2011 to 24,850 in 2016. 

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Not only is this number growing, but the percentage of "new farmers" in Canada who didn't grow up on a farm is at 68 per cent. And the number of "new farmers" who are female is at 58 per cent. That's double the number of females farming in Canada in general.

This generation is more committed to a responsible way of farming—not just a way that's responsible to the environment, but responsible to our customers. We want the soil to be healthy, because that in turn makes the vegetables or grasses grown in the soil healthy, which makes the animals or people eating that vegetation healthy. 

But it isn't easy to be a young farmer. The odds are continually stacked against us: land is constantly being bought and sold, inflating the prices; the average age of farmers is 55, meaning our mentorship pool is slowly being eroded; and the competing farms, though decreasing in number, have grown in size to a point where it is nearly impossible to find land that is affordable and close to a market. 

Most young farmers support their passion with an off-farm job—in The Prairie Farm Project alone, we have a carpenter, an electrician, a yoga instructor, a drug tester, and a journalist. 

And it's amazing that we have these off-farm skills, because we can bring so much to an industry that, for decades, educated its future on farm.

On top of being well-educated, we're well-travelled. We tweet, and gram, and post as easily and effortlessly as we breathe. We care about global problems. We don’t just accept the status quo—we challenge the people before us and question their decisions. 

And because we often studied and lived in cities, we are connected to our urban counterparts in a way our farming elders aren’t. 

Young people are the future. There's nothing new about that statement, but that doesn't mean it's not important. By supporting a young farmer, you're also supporting resilience. You're supporting a lifestyle. You're supporting a local economy, and you're supporting change.