The average age of U.S. farmers is 57, and only getting older. But alongside this worrying USDA Census of Agriculture statistic is a more cheering one: the number of young people entering farming seems at last to be on the rise.
Many of these for-profit growers got their hands dirty for the first time in college, volunteering on a farm or even banding together to start one at their alma mater.
Now, there’s a new social-networking-based online community that connects wannabe campus growers to students who have already taken food gardens “off the ground” at their universities — as well as to veteran greenthumbs around the world.
Campus Farmers is a collaboration between the Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation and Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI).
The nonprofit arm of food service pioneer Bon Appétit Management Company, the Foundation in 2009 released a downloadable Student Garden Guide upon whose work Campus Farmers builds.
KGI is a nonprofit community of 25,000 people from 100 countries who are growing their own food and helping others to do the same. It was the driving force behind 2008’s successful public campaign to get the White House to plant a kitchen garden.
The Campus Farmers site (www.kgi.org/campusfarmers) offers a wealth of information and links to resources about starting an on-campus farm, managing farm finances, and staying in business.
The idea for the online community came from former East Coast Fellow Carolina Fojo, who worked with students and Bon Appétit staff to start a kitchen garden at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, and thought there had to be a better way to centralize and share information.
Students can ask each other questions about things such as how to get permission to start planting on unused land, upload photos of their projects, and share documents such as sample business plans.
And if they want to find out, say, a chemical-free way to fight an infestation of tomato worms, they can turn to KGI’s members for help.