Califonia Bountiful

Mentoring young farmers

Communities come together to support the next generation.

Though it may not look like it, Jim Muck is successfully bucking a trend—one that finds him tending to his family farm in Wheatland.

His family purchased the farm in the early 1850s, and after leaving for college and some career opportunities, he eventually found his calling and circled back to where it all began.

"It wasn't a glamorous life or appealing to a high school student," Jim said. "I went off and did other things, went to college and then worked. I was never satisfied being inside an office."

Jim is 43 years old and has a small, organic vegetable farm on a portion of his family's 160 acres.

"I know that my dad loves that the farm is utilized to a greater degree than it has been for probably 40 years," he said. "We're trying to make the most out of what we have and I think they like that."

According to the 2007 Ag Census from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in four farmers is 65 years of age or older and the percentage of farmers younger than 45 has dropped significantly to just more than 25 percent of American farmers.

Roger Ingram is an agriculture and natural resources advisor with the University of California, Davis. He said, "There's a critical need to have a replacement generation to come in here so that we can keep growing food to feed everyone."

Farmer Rich Johansen, of Johansen Ranch in Orland, is aware of the need for young farmers and is doing his part by mentoring the owners of Four Frog Farm in Penn Valley.

"We wanted to set up something for younger farmers who may not have the capital, may not have the land, but certainly have the knowledge, the eagerness, the willingness to farm," he said.

Logan Egan, 26, graduated from Stanford University with a master's degree in earth systems and today co-owns Four Frog Farm with childhood friend Andrew Meyers.

"Rich's knowledge has really been invaluable—first, on how to keep things moving very efficiently on the farm. No matter what we're doing, he's always looking from a distance and you can tell he's thinking, 'How can we make this move faster,'" Logan said. "We're proud of how we've been able to bring a lot of food to a lot of people in the surrounding area."

In Placer County, helping young farmers jump-start their farm is not just an individual task. Communities are taking on the effort.

"We're doing everything we can to get young people on the farm," said Carol Arnold, general manager of Foothill Farmers Market Association. "We have internship programs and the whole community is coming in to support young farms."

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