Younger crop of farmers emerging
Born in Sonoma County in 2011, the Farmer’s Guild is made up of young farmers and ranchers seeking to organize and then share the land.
According to Executive Director of The Farmer’s Guild Evan Wiig, “It’s simply a group of farmers, ranchers and local food advocates that get together and share resources, information, and try to organize themselves and their resources. If there is a group of people who thinks there is a need, then we will help with all the resources to get it started.”
The Farmer’s Guild has expanded from a humble ranch in Valley Ford to a cooperative organization throughout the state. Ten guilds currently operate under the organization, with the most recent guild formed in Petaluma.
The Petaluma Farmer’s Guild held its first meeting in the last week of January. Petaluma joins Sebastopol and Sonoma as Sonoma County towns with their own guilds.
Concerned with the entire food system, policy decisions at all levels of government and environmentally sustainable living, the Farmer’s Guild operates with a broad strategy. A chief concern of the Farmer’s Guild is a void within the population of active farmers.
Among 2.1 million principal American farm operators in 2012, just six percent are under 35 years of age, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The average age of farmers is 58 years, continuing a 30-year trend where the farming population has aged consistently.
Wiig recounts his personal story as one that is not much different than other young people. Saddled with student loan debt and working for a less than desired salary in publishing, Wiig sought change. That change came in the form of a ranch hand position in Valley Ford.
Wiig’s access to a piece of land made the transition from the publishing industry to farming more agreeable than most.
“It’s a huge challenge, especially if you are a first generation farmer. The number one barrier to new farmers is land access,” said Wiig. “Especially in a place like Sonoma County, where land is extremely expensive. It is much more profitable to sell land to developers or, in the case here, to people who make wine.”
Wiig recommends that beginners to the trade start small. Backyards are a safe place to start, where one can hone the craft.
A cooperative effort among residents with “ranchettes,” small plots of once-productive land turned into private residencies, have become good areas for small farm operations to get started.
Guilds have the ability to become a major part of the habitat of the area and of the lives of the people involved. The interconnectedness of social media and technology in the lives of young people helps the guilds connect new, younger farmers to one another. Certain meetings revolve around connecting efforts in the field with exposure through Facebook, Twitter, as well as maintenance of an official website.
“We have a terrific blessing for us,” said Connie Madden, program coordinator for the Petaluma Farmer’s Guild. “We are quietly excited here in Petaluma. There is a terrific need for young farmers.”
The next meeting of the Petaluma Farmer’s Guild will be Feb. 22, 5 p.m. at Open Field Farm, 2246 Spring Hill Road, Petaluma.
The Farmer’s Guild will host a two-part event Feb. 14 at the Petaluma Veterans Memorial Building, 1094 Petaluma Boulevard South.
“Farmer’s Guild Raising” will be held from 1:30-6 p.m. Guilds from all over the state will attend. The Farmer’s Guild Raising invites individuals who are strongly interested or currently farm, ranch, or advocate for food. Workshops will feature land access, state and local policy, grazing techniques and local food advocacy. The evening will conclude with the Valentine’s Boot Stompin’ Ball, held from 6-10 p.m. Welcome to all ages, the event is a celebration of the local food community. Northwest Catering, a farm-to-table catering company out of Valley Ford, will provide food. Mr. December, a Northern California based band will perform. Admission will be $5 for both the Farmer’s Guild Raising and the Valentine’s Boot Stompin’ Ball. Tickets & Food will be available the day of the event or by pre-order at guildraising.brownpapertickets.com.
To learn of opportunities, contact Wiig at email@example.com. Information about the Farmer’s Guild can be found at farmersguild.org .
(Contact Joshua Gutierrez at firstname.lastname@example.org)