Running on empty? It’s time for a re-set

Rebecca Thistlethwaite Rebecca Thistlethwaite Photo: Supplied

By Jennifer Blair
OrganicBiz staff

It takes guts to be a farmer these days.

“Farming is an extremely complex business to run, and it takes remarkable courage,” said author Rebecca Thistlethwaite, who farms in Oregon.

“It demands an incredible well of passion, a willingness to learn, and ‘stick-to-it-tiveness’ to make it work.”

But more and more, farmers are finding that they can’t stick to it anymore.

“Agriculture appears to be a dying art,” Thistlethwaite said at the Organic Alberta conference in late February.

Not only do you work your tails off growing food for people, but you also have to work other jobs to make ends meet. – Rebecca Thistlethwaite, farmer and author

“Every year, there are fewer farmers, with vast consolidation of the largest ones, and an increasingly aging farming population. One-half of U.S. farmland is set to change hands in the next 20 years, and much of that is going to investment firms and not family farms.”

And the rising cost of farmland is making it increasingly difficult for new farmers to enter the industry, she said.

“Canadian farmland values are appreciating by the double digits. That’s great if you’re trying to sell your land, and not so great if you’re looking to buy and get into agriculture.”

In Canada, 76 per cent of family farm income comes from off-farm jobs — “a recipe for burnout,” said Thistlethwaite.

“Not only do you work your tails off growing food for people, but you also have to work other jobs to make ends meet,” she said. “After you put in your 60 hours of farming, now go work another 40 hours — plus take care of your families, your health, your homes. It’s not realistic and it’s not fair.”

Thistlethwaite experienced that first hand while farming with her husband in northern California, where the couple built one of the largest organic pasture and livestock operations in the West, grossing nearly half a million dollars a year.

But the workload to build that business was “entirely unsustainable.”

To read the full article on the Alberta Farmer Express, click here.