New group helps young farmers blossom in Roaring Fork Valley
The Aspen Times
In thinking about what career paths millennials are choosing, farming might not come to mind.
But there’s a number of young adults in the valley who are bucking that conception and entering the industry, and like anyone starting a career for the first time, they need all the help they can get. So a few of them got together this spring and formed the Roaring Fork Beginning Farmers, a local organization also affiliated with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and the National Young Farmers Coalition.
Although the club isn’t exclusive, its target membership is farmers with less than 10 years of experience, said Harper Kaufman, the club’s president and founder, during a recent public launch party at Carbondale Beer Works. Club members benefit from working together to identify markets, collaborating on land access and having a network of support for information and even sometimes an extra hand with chores.
“I just wanted a group to talk about young and beginning farmers’ issues,” said Kaufman, who is one of two agriculture managers at Rock Bottom Ranch. “I wanted to find people interested in the same things and trying to figure out the same things I was.”
The club’s meetings take place once a month at local farms and ranches. They usually start with a “Crop Mob,” a project helping out the host farmer, and share a potluck meal of dishes made with their own products. About 60 people have signed up for the Beginning Farmers email list, with about 25 to 30 people showing up regularly to meetings, Kaufman said.
Meetings are a forum for farmers to find out about agricultural job opportunities, collaborate or just ask each other questions, such as “what tomatoes grow in a greenhouse?” Kaufman said. “There’s a lot of unplanned talks, farmer to farmer, that are helpful.”
Today’s young farmers have different priorities than past generations, though.
Says Kaufman: “A lot of us getting into farming now are starting smaller or are more interested in organic.”
Groups like Beginning Farmers can present a stronger front for local issues on the policymaking level. Representatives from the club will attend a Rocky Mountain Farmers Union convention in Denver in November, and Kaufman is representing the group in San Diego at a meeting of the National Young Farmers Coalition.
“How wonderful to have all of these resources working together as a unit,” said Meighen Lovelace, the club’s policy officer.
Collaborating with the local Rocky Mountain Farmers Union chapter has been helpful to the group in getting started and in presenting a unified voice for valley farmers and ranchers. In fact, that organization got started largely the same way Beginning Farmers did, said Steve Child, a Pitkin County commissioner and a rancher in the valley for more than 50 years.
“I’m so excited to have a lot of new, beginning farmers growing things,” Child said.
Organizations like Beginning Farmers help people who want to share equipment or need a helping hand, but if nothing else, they become a support group for young workers going through similar experiences, he said.
“It’s a celebration of people who are excited about farming,” Child said.
With many lingering questions still surrounding the fate of Aspen’s historic Old Powerhouse, City Council decided during Monday’s work session to hold off on providing staff direction on moving the preservation project forward until more information can be presented.