It’s hard to imagine that farming has rockstars. For many, farming conjures images of cantankerous old men shuffling around their fields complaining about the weather and waxing lyrical about younger lazy generations.
However, the folks arriving at the Manning Entertainment Centre at Taree for Joel Salatin and co’s latest Australian tour, ‘Fields of Farmers’, painted a very different picture. Sure, there were plenty of flannies and R.M. Williams boots to be seen but the 150 audience members also included families, a strong youth contingent, plenty of women and professional looking types that did not appear to be your average farmer.
As farming practices shift away from traditional unsustainable techniques, the image of farmers is also changing and that has a lot to do with rockstars like Joel Salatin. Joel is the vibrant and sometimes controversial visionary at the helm of Polyface Farm who has been described by TIME magazine as “the world’s most innovative farmer.” (link) He had visited Australia on speaking engagements many times and this time round he brought his son Daniel and daughter in-law Sheri to tackle generational farming, how to build successful farm businesses and the future of farming.
As the Future Feeders crew is well aware, farmers are getting old and it’s time to start germinating a new generation that will be ready to take charge. Joel opened the session with some lively brainstorming around why people farm and why the average age of a farmer is 60 years old. This discussion brought to light many paradigms about farming such as rising costs, lack of profits and youth reluctance. Joel made clear that his goal for the day was to light the way for farmers to create and encourage continuity in generational farming by being diverse and flexible.
Daniel followed up by highlighting some of the similarities between families and farms and how these similarities can be effectively managed to transfer farming passion onto younger generations. Sheri added her perspective as the new-comer in the family dynamic and how she went about carving out a new place for herself by finding something that didn’t encroach on anyone else’s territory.
While the morning session focused mainly on family dynamics, the afternoon session delved into how to involve and engage others in farm operations. Daniel talked passionately about the excitement that a mentor and student relationship can bring to benefit both parties as well as the farm in general. Polyface Farm runs a very successful intern and apprenticeship program that provides the basis for all future staff and subcontractors which Daniel explained in detail. He highlighted the importance of setting out clear expectations as the foundation for any team.
I particularly enjoyed his point that “all jobs are sacred” which is to say that every single job that is completed on the farm is important and meaningful. Daniel says he doesn’t give jobs that he wouldn’t or hasn’t done himself and I think that’s a powerful tool for leadership in a farm environment.
In the last session Joel drilled down into some of the finer points about relationships and agreements with other staff on the farm including commission based pay, creating Memorandums of Understanding and how Polyface makes room for new entrepreneurs within their business.
When young people come to the Salatins at the end of an internship or apprenticeship and say they would like to stay Joel asks them how?How will they generate their income? How will they create their own niche at Polyface? This particularly struck me because it puts the responsibility firmly back on the shoulders of the asker. As a young person looking for a way in I was reminded that no one is going to come and get me! I am going to have to get myself out there!
Rather than focusing on the barriers – I can’t afford land, I don’t come from a farming background - I came away thinking of the possibilities – Who’s land can I lease, borrow, access? How can I offer my enthusiasm? Where can I get exposure to learning new skills? Future Feeders if creating a great platform for grappling with these barriers and charging ahead with opening up the possibilities for ourselves and other young farmers.
Nothing beats spending a day with a room full of like-minded people and nothing compares to that feeling of elation and empowerment that you get from gaining new knowledge and a slightly shifted perspective.
Future Feeders would like to extend their sincerest gratitude to Rockstar Regrarians in their own right, Lisa Heenan and Darren Doherty (HeenanDoherty) for providing us with two scholarships to attend this inspiring event.
Future Feeders Team