Helping To Nurture the Next Generation of Farmers

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.”


Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Meg Graham
Meg G5 years ago

A sad day for you when your friend passed away. From the sounds of it there is no one in the family willing to take on the farm and that would be even sadder.
I don't know about the states but here in Oz some of our farmers in the coastal regions see their land as their retirement fund. The reasons for this are many (not greed) just simple economics. If the children don't want the farm and the only person who is going to buy it is a developer what are you going to do.
For me putting houses and apartments and supermarkets on limited fertile land is madness in the extreme and should be banned. If at the point of time that the farmer needs to retire and there is no one wanting to buy it as a on going farm I feel it should be purchased by the government and put in a land bank until such time as someone would like to farm it. Or if there are younger people who are interested but have no funds then the government gives them the land on a lease or sells it to them with low interest rates.

David Nuttle
Past Member 5 years ago

The factory farms and biotech companies do not want competition from smallholder beginning farmers since they tend to produce foods by sustainable, organic means ...and seldom grow the GM GMO crops the biotech companies promote. Biotech companies, like Monsanto, are paying millions of dollars in "political payola" (bribes) to influence our elected representatives to make life difficult for beginning farmers. USDA has taken this negative direction, from Congress, to engage in massive discrimination against small, beginning and minority farmers. In the Pigford civil right discrimination case, and similar cases, USDA was fined millions of dollars (by the courts) for such discrimination. It seems it will take a critical shortage of farmers, and dangerous shortages of foods before such attitudes change. Meanwhile, Monsanto seeks to hide the fact that you may be buying foods with GM/ GMO crops, and that some of these may be harmful to your health.

N.B. Recent scientific research at Purdue Univ. disclosed the fact that some GM/ GMO crops contain glyphosate (from a biotech herbicide used to help grow these crops), and that this poisonous chemical may cause sterility in females (livestock & humans).

Winn Adams
Winn Adams5 years ago


Gary C.
Gary C5 years ago


Carole R.
Carole R6 years ago

Thank you for the post.

Megan S.
Megan S6 years ago

I'm so sorry for your loss, he sounds like a wonderful man and wonderful farmer, devoted to what he did.

I hope farming does not stay like it is... I want it to explode! I want to see, before I am an adult, biodynamic farms opening EVERYWHERE! I want to see monocultures and pesticides disappear. I want REAL FOOD to be apart of this country!

I plan on either being a restoration ecologist or owning my own vegan (maybe even raw?) cafe, and either way, I will be making sure I support local farms. Whether it's just for me, my husband, and herd of guinea pigs whom I will mother, or for my cafe, I'll make sure I make it clear that I want good food!

Nicole D.
Nicole D6 years ago

I feel truly blessed to live in an area where there are so many local sustainable farms. It saddens me that so many Americans have no idea where their food is coming from and that many products are being shipped in from other countries because of the monoculture being created on so many farms in this country. Big business has ruined so many farms, we need to support and cherish those local farms who have yet to fall victim to the agriculture industry.

Robin T.
R T6 years ago

@ Tricia Hamilton Not all farmers have slaughter houses. You should really take the trouble to visit a farm of the type we are discussing here, it might open your eyes.
Judi you are so right, we need to find ways to encourage young farmers. I think this problem is world wide and all for the same reason. It is very difficult for a farmer to make a decent living, especially one starting out as the start up costs are astronomical and the returns minimal. On top of that all it takes is one bad year of drought, abnormal rains or pestilance nd you are in serious trouble. Nothing is certain when farming and that puts a lot of aspiring farmers off.
We all need to make that extra effort and support our local small farmers.They are our only hope for the future.

Make a difference, plant a tree.

Lynda G.
Lynda G6 years ago

It isn't just in the US that farms and farmers are disappearing, it's happening here in Australia too. Our backbone no more.

Young people leave the farms more now than ever before and the major national purchasers grind the prices they'll pay down so much for produce that it's putting many out of business.

We are also losing our farms to international buyers like China and the US, and others, European countries, Canada etc who are buying our farms for their own future food needs which begs the question, "what about us?"

It looks like we'll be importing the majority of our food before long, a tragedy given our heritage and the very thought of low quality food after what we've been used to horrifies me.

I'm not aware of any organisation like Greenhorn or National Young Farmers Coalition here, there maybe it's not a topic I know much about but we Aussies definitely need to devote some serious attention to the farming issue.