One of the greatest gifts I have gotten from being a farm writer has been the opportunity to get to know so many wonderful farmers. I have developed not only a respect for the work they do, and a great appreciation for the food that they grow for me, but have formed some genuine friendships.
But sadly, that also means that when one of them passes away, I share the grief along with their family and feel that I have lost my own loved one as well. Last week I lost one of my farmer friends, Tom Ishibashi (pictured above), a third generation farmer, whose family has been farming the same piece of land for the past 60 years.
He was the last farmer in my community, in southern Los Angeles County, once home to so many farms, ranches and dairies, now all gone. I wrote a book about my community’s farm history, and he was the star of it, since his family worked this land for the majority of the 20th century and he was the last to farm into the 21st. With him, goes the last farm in the South Bay and a way of life that has all but vanished.
He taught me so much about not only farming, but also about endurance and hard work and how having a true passion for something can literally keep you alive. He will be greatly missed by our community, his strawberries appearing in early March signaled the start of spring, and he had the sweetest white corn I have ever tasted.
While it is inevitable that our older farmers like my friend Tom will be gone, farming doesn’t have to be. As I have written about many times here, American Farmland Trust is working hard to save our farmland and help our farmers stay on it.
And, there are also organizations that are working to get younger people to take over for retiring farmers and to help keep our farming legacy alive. These include the Greenhorns an organization best known for their documentary about young farmers. The Greenhorns is a grassroots non-profit organization made up of young farmers and many collaborators. Their mission is to recruit, promote and support the new generation of young farmers. They have made a documentary about young farmers and are cofounders of The National Young Farmer Coalition and published a book, The Greenhorns Guide for Beginning Farmers.
The organization they co-founded, the National Young Farmers Coalition was created by and for young and beginning farmers in the United States. They help young farmers by”strengthening their social networks, helping them hone their skills through the facilitation of peer-to-peer learning, and fighting for the policies that will keep them farming for a lifetime.”