What happens when green turns to grey? Fewer than 5 percent of 2 million American farmers are under 45 years old. Bucking that trend is the next generation of unstoppable young farmers Severine von Tscharner Fleming, Tyler Webb, and Sarita Role Schaffer, along with renowned urban food innovator Nikki Henderson and real food advocate Anim Steel. With dirt under their nails and laptops at their fingertips, they’re reinventing a “radical patriotism” founded in a return to local agriculture and community. It runs on clean energy and knows how to move markets. It seeks greater self-sufficiency, self-determination and food justice, and the checkout line is the pulpit.
About the speakers:
Severine von Tscharner Fleming farms in the Hudson Valley of New York. She is founder and director of Greenhorns, an organization that works nationally to promote, support, and recruit young farmers. Severine cofounded the National Young Farmers’ Coalition and directed the documentary film The Greenhorns. She is one of the editors of Greenhorns.
Young farmers Tyler and Melanie Webb run Stony Pond Farm, an organic dairy farm that supplies milk to Organic Valley. Their road to farming was a little unorthodox. Neither Tyler nor Melanie have a background in farming; they both grew up in suburbs of New York. Tyler’s first interest in farming came from studying anthropology in college. Through taking a soils class, he studied plant and soil science and worked for the government for a few years before taking the leap to start Stony Pond Farm. “Tyler found this farm and it was a rundown old dairy farm that together we brought back to life,” says Melanie. “I figured if I’m ever going to have a chance of being a farmer I’d better try it in my early 20s than my late 60s, so I quit my job, “ says Tyler. “I look back and I don’t even know how we pulled it off. Every day you wake up and you do what you have to do. You milk the cows and you do what’s possible and then before you know it, you’ve done the impossible. In looking back, it seems like it was impossible, but we did it.” For the Webbs, it was important for their dairy to be part of a farmer-owned cooperative like Organic Valley that encourages the growth and stability of family farms. “I think Organic Valley has been really interested in supporting and promoting young farmers, “ says Melanie. “It’s cool to be part of a co-op that is so forward-thinking.”
Sarita Role Schaffer cofounded GrowFood, a nonprofit that connects new farmers to internships, apprenticeships, and hands-on education on more than 2,600 sustainable farms and food projects in the U.S. and 56 other countries. Sarita has advanced organic farming and agricultural education in New Zealand, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, and Cuba. She currently serves as regional director of Washington State University’s Latino Farming Program and directs GrowFood’s newest project, Viva Farms, a farm incubator and food hub that helps beginning and immigrant farmers become farm owners.
Nikki Henderson is the executive director of People’s Grocery. She began her work in social justice through the foster care system in Southern California, having been raised with seven older foster brothers. Through mentoring, tutoring, and directing Foster Youth Empowerment Workshops, she developed her passion for youth leadership development among communities of color. She later shifted into sustainability, developing course curriculum for the University of California system and advocating across the state for environmental justice and political ecology. She has worked closely with Van Jones and Phaedra Ellis Lamkins at Green for All, fighting for a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. She was also a part of Slow Food USA in Brooklyn, NY where President Josh Viertel came to regard her as an “extraordinary leader with a vision for how food and urban farming can be tools of empowerment”. In 2009, Nikki co-founded Live Real, a national collaborative of food movement organizations committed to strengthening and expanding the youth food movement in the United States. In 2010, Nikki was featured in ELLE magazine as one of the five Gold Awardees. She has a Master’s degree in African American Studies from UCLA, and is originally from Los Angeles, CA.
Anim Steel is the founder of the Real Food Generation and is instrumental in developing its initiatives (including the Real Food Challenge). He is also the former Director of National Programs at The Food Project in Boston, MA. Anim holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a B.A. in Astrophysics and History from Williams College. Although his dreams of becoming an astronaut never came to fruition, he is more than happy spending countless hours working on building and bettering a just and sustainable food system. He is also a fool for soccer and enjoys traveling back to Ghana, where he was born.