At the Agricultural Marketing Service and across USDA, we often talk about the fact that the face of American agriculture is changing. The ranks of our farmers, especially young and beginning farmers, include a growing number of women, people of color, veterans or folks in their second careers. So-called “traditional” agriculture defies the term as it pursues new strategies, new products, and new markets. Across the country, agriculture is diversifying and evolving to meet changing consumer demands.
I saw the new face of agriculture last week during travels to Illinois and Indiana. My first stop was a roundtable on Women in Agriculture held at FarmedHere in Bedford Park, Illinois, about 15 miles from Chicago. Twenty or so women gathered to talk about their farming goals and to hear about how USDA could support them. This topic is close to my heart – I’m a New Hampshire native, a state with the second highest percentage of women farmers in the country. The women around the table with me represented the new face of ag, but so too did the setting – an indoor, vertical farm that produces basil and microgreens in a facility designed to reduce energy costs and shrink the carbon footprint of growing food. FarmedHere is managed by Megan Klein, an attorney by training who found her calling in urban agriculture and became part of this “new face.”
The following day, I addressed the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) and discussed a challenge that we in government share with industry: a need to recruit and retain a new generation of farmers, food business owners, and agricultural professionals. I discussed some of the things we’ve done at AMS to ensure that our programs and services evolve to meet new demands – from our Market News price data on grass-fed beef, organic and local foods, to our Process Verified Program that has helped companies demonstrate compliance with claims like limited antibiotic use in poultry. We’re excited to continue this work in the coming year.
Finally, I visited Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana, a working farm and visitors’ attraction partly funded through commodity Research and Promotion Program dollars and owned by Mike and Sue McCloskey. Fair Oaks educates the public about how animals are raised and how food gets from a farm to their table. Visitors get to see cows being milked and pigs at all stages of life. During my visit, I saw the birth of a calf – I’ll spare you the photos, but it was an incredible thing to witness. Fair Oaks also uses anaerobic digestion to convert farm waste into energy, including powering the trucks that deliver their products to nearby markets. It was a fitting end to a visit full of new faces, truly illustrating the new face of agriculture.