Young farmers

Amidst all the food-related doom and gloom courtesy of “food deserts,” deregulated genetically modified organisms, massive outbreaks of deadly salmonella-tainted animal products, and seemingly endless options of processed junk food around every corner, food in America may actually have a brighter future than you think thanks to a rising college course trend: organic agriculture.

In 1965, roughly 4 percent of farmers and animal ranchers had college degrees. Today, that number is 25 percent with nearly 70 percent having some college credits, according to the American Farm Bureau Foundation. Director of education for the AFBF, Curtis Miller, told The Huffington Post, “Everybody’s going back to school because you have to. We know that equals earning potential and survivability on and off the farm.” And that education not only helps with raising food, but explorations in crop diversity, sustainability practices, and an overall holistic approach to the modern farm.

While the average American farmer is 57 years old, the next generation of farmers committed to alternative agriculture programs and raising healthier food options is also being embraced in the marketplace and among their peers. Organic Valley has invested in a 3-week biofuel-powered bus tour (Generation Organic 2011“Who’s Your Farmer?”) aimed at connecting farmers ages 18 to 35 with students and communities across the country. And the organic food sector continues to experience growth compared with conventional food sales, indicating that consumers are willing to pay more for quality organic food despite the fiscal uncertainty wobbling the American economy over the last several years.

With more interest from college students and American consumers, universities will continue to add organic and sustainable agriculture programs to their course offerings, says Miller. And it’s not just the universities implementing organics. Grade schools and high schools across the country are embracing organic gardening in record numbers, according to Cem Akin, Director of the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. “We have more interest than ever before in our organic gardening and orchard programs from schools of all levels all over the country ready to implement food as a teaching tool, a source of wholesome nutrition for students, and as a bridge between the students, their teachers and their communities.”

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image: Jill Ettinger