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Young people on the land: Views on creating a future in farming, growing and agroforestry

Article Source: https://sustainablefoodtrust.org/news-views/young-people-land-access/

Accessed from the world wide web at 12:00 hrs 07.08.22.

A new generation of young farmers, growers and landworkers are coming into agriculture, motivated by a need to do something meaningful in the face of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. None, however, come from a farming background. Here, they talk about the issues that they face as new entrants and the choices they’ve made and why.

Finn Halsall

Finn Halsall is 23 and has been working in Cornwall for the past 4 years. He aims to help tackle the key problems of our world and to try and make the planet a better place. For him, this means focusing on the climate crisis and social injustice through growing food in an ecological way. Since graduating in Conservation Biology and Ecology, he’s been working at two growing projects – as a trainee and now grower at Goonown Growers , and at a community field called ‘Love Land’, which is a branch of Falmouth Food Co-op, where he’s leading on the creation of a new commercial growing project.

Tell me about yourself – how did you get interested in growing? Do you come from a farming background or is this new territory?

I work at a market garden and also a community growing project – I’m part-time on both. I got into growing about four or five years ago, when I was in Nepal. I was really inspired by the self-sufficiency that I saw over there, where local people were so resilient and growing a lot of their own food in rural areas. I was hooked and came back from travelling and made a huge garden at home and started reading loads of books and watching videos, and it escalated from there.

After travelling, I went to university to study conservation biology, and I still thought that I’d just garden and grow my own food on a large home garden scale and work in wildlife conservation as a career. But shortly after starting uni, I decided that what I actually wanted was to have a career in growing, and after completing my course, I took my first job in farming.

Did you at any point do any kind of formal training?

No, not like qualifications – just lots of time spent volunteering and visiting places, and it was great to have experienced so many different projects first hand. I’m yet to discover a formal qualification that really fits into what I’m interested in. Especially because conventional agriculture colleges and courses barely touch on organic.

You work on two different projects as an employee – how did you find the work?

Yes, at the market garden I’m an employee; I started out with a paid traineeship scheme. And at the community garden, I’m also an employee. There, I’m leading the growing project and I manage the actual vegetables, so it’s a lot of responsibility. Fortunately, this year, my salary has been funded externally, but going into next year, we’re going to try and make it sustain itself financially, which is a big deal. It’s definitely a great step on from voluntary roles to getting paid to work on farms.

Is your long-term goal to own and farm your own land, or are you happy working for and with others?

Definitely the dream is to own my own land, largely because I would like to also have a bit of land to live on. But helping on someone else’s project or getting involved in an existing project isn’t out of the question – it just requires finding the right project. I’d love to be involved in a project from the start – whether that’s on my own or with other people.

What are the main issues you face as a young grower?

There are obviously key issues in getting started: access to land, the financing that you need. Many of those setting up their own projects come from privileged backgrounds, owning their own property or having financial help from family. There are definitely a lot of barriers getting into farming. I’m lucky to work on a farm which pays me a wage, and to also be involved in a community project which has access to funding. If I was to set something up on my own, I’d need a huge amount of money and access to land, which is ever increasing in price and harder to find.

I’d like to live on the land I work, but there are all kind of rules and regulations and planning issues and policies regarding that. The One Planet Development policy in Wales is a step in the right direction.

In terms of support for the work you do, are there things that you feel young people need to go forward in farming and growing?

I don’t know how anyone can make young people feel attracted to farming. I think there needs to be more education – I learnt how important farming is and that it’s a meaningful way to take action on the various injustices in the world. It needs to be talked about more and encouraged from top down and in schools. Volunteering offers great opportunities for young people to learn, but how do we get more young people to volunteer? More training opportunities would be great – the Kickstart scheme, which was government funded training, was brilliant and a lot of farms took advantage of it. It allowed young people to be paid for their work.

“I was really inspired by the self-sufficiency that I saw in Nepal, where local people were so resilient and growing a lot of their own food in rural areas.”

Finn Halsall

Emma Eberhardt

Emma Eberhardt is 25 and a coordinator of the Landworkers’ Alliance workgroup FLAME, which is focused on skilling up young people in landwork. Emma has a a background in environmental science, and she has recently finished an MSc in Agroforestry and Food Security. Alongside this, she is also working with Forest for Cornwall as an agroforestry consultant. Her interests include agroforesty, agroecology, nature connection, education and making land work more accessible.

What’s your background? How did you get involved in agriculture?

I came from an environmental sciences background and having grown up in a city, I didn’t have that much interaction with nature when I was young. But I discovered an interest in growing and environmental work, and I got very interested in agriculture and its impact on the environment. It was through getting involved with the Landworkers’ Alliance that I learned more about the justice elements of it, and I became motivated to be part of this land management movement as a solution to the [problems of] the food system and climate change.

I have worked for a market garden, and I have also worked in forestry and woodland management. I’m particularly interested in the integration of trees in the farm landscape.

You’re very involved with Flame, the Landworkers’ Alliance youth group – tell us about that?

I found out that the LWA was setting up a youth group which had been initiated by a few young people and they were looking for co-ordinators to help run it. I felt really motivated to be part of it. There had been quite a lot of other groups led by young people around the country, but they were all focused on campaigning to stop a problem, whereas this felt like it was working toward a solution. It was empowering for me because it was about getting more young people into farming and into working the land which is not really a message that’s promoted much to young people.

How has Flame developed?

It’s been running now for a couple of years. It started out as a group of interested individuals who met up. We were given a lot of support from the Landworkers’ Alliance to develop our vision and aims. Our aims are: ‘food for all’, ‘youth involvement’ and ‘promoting agroecology’. Over the past couple of years, we’ve developed a structure and different working groups. For example, some people are focused on landwork or organising and skilling up young people. There are different workshops and farm visits. We have regular online meetings as a lot of the members are scattered throughout the country, and we meet up once a year physically for workshops and training that we organise.

A lot of it is about supporting young people to make a living and find their place in land management. We offer opportunities to help young people get to where they need to be find a career in this area.

Where do you see yourself going – do you actually want to go into agroforestry and be doing physical work on the land or do you want to be working on something like policy issues?

I’ve been offered a job with the Forest for Cornwall, a project led by Cornwall Council, to lead on agroforestry planting in Cornwall. It will be a lot of interacting with farmers, facilitating and working with people who are planting trees. I’m going to be leading on that. But [the job] is really something that I struggled with, because for me working on the land is really mentally and physically rewarding – I find it’s something that really grounds me. I’m involved in a volunteer capacity with a local project that is growing grains and vegetables on a community field and that for me is incredibly important. I want to have more of a balance between that physical work and the more advisory work that I do. 

Is pay an issue?

I think pay is something that young people really struggle with. If we want more sustainable farming, that would mean more mixed farms on a smaller scale and with more labour and more people. If government is really invested in re-invigorating our landscape and making it more productive in terms of the foods and diets that we eat, then we do need to be investing in people’s wages and making it an attractive and safe place to work in. If we want to be sustainable and self-sufficient in our resources, then people are an essential part of that.

What are your longer-term goals?

For me, being on the land is a really healthy way of living. I think ultimately, I’d really like to be involved with some land, like a locally based project. I’m really interested in agroforestry consultancy because I can see that the need for that is going to increase over the years and it’s a really interesting way of managing the land. But, in terms of my well-being and also feel like I’m making a contribution, I’d really like to be on a piece of land and producing my own food for myself or being part of larger a land system.

Any last thoughts?

Also, one of the really important things, thinking about young people and the future of food and farming and the land, is actually the educational system. As a child, I never thought about farming as a career – it’s very much thought of as a backward thing rather than a practical, viable career and that’s really problematic. We’re talking about having climate change in the education curriculum, but we also need to be talking about agriculture and forestry and how managing the land can actually be good. The public aren’t necessarily educated about how to manage land.

I think climate change is a really good way to start. It draws young people in because, they are so concerned about it. So, showing how the land can be such a massive solution, is really important.

“We’re talking about having climate change in the education curriculum, but we also need to be talking about agriculture and forestry and how managing the land can actually be good.”

Emma Eberhardt

Lawrence Weston

Lawrence is 23 and a new entrant grower currently working at RHS Rosemoor on a Specialist Horticultural Placement in Edibles. He previously graduated from the University of Birmingham, has worked at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, and as a biodynamic land worker. He is pictured below in the Kitchen Garden at HMP Swinfen Hall where he has led horticulture workshops with male inmates aged 18-27, for the charity Food Behind Bars.

Tell me about yourself?

I would consider myself primarily a grower, though I have worked on farms in the past. I’m from a village just west of Birmingham. I graduated from the University of Birmingham with a degree in geography and I worked as a gardener at Wimbledon Tennis Club for six months during the championship. Then last November, I got a job working as a farm hand and assistant kitchen gardener in a school where I live and that was sort of an apprenticeship – I got a small stipend and I was funded to take on some tickets for a chainsaw and other things. And I’m now about to go and work for the RHS.

Has farming always been something that you were interested in?

I consider myself a new entrant – neither of my parents nor grandparents were involved in farming. I came to it through living in a rural area – I’ve always been aware of land use in the area around where I live. It’s somewhat agricultural but it’s increasingly a landscape of consumption rather than a landscape of production. Lots of horse fields where agricultural land is not used for agriculture.

Through studying geography, I did some plant-based modules and rural geography modules and also studied the broader picture of the climate crisis and the inequalities across the UK and around the world.

I also got involved in the Landworkers’ Alliance which I got into through FLAME. I’m very involved with FLAME and I’m organising skillsharing – we did hedge laying over the winter. We also went down to Real Seeds in Pembrokeshire and did an introduction to machinery.

What are your long-term goals? What do you think about your future?

I’m currently a landless landworker and I don’t have any land. My dream one day would be to buy or more realistically, lease some land. There are a myriad of challenges around that – finances, access to land, all of the same struggles that everyone [in landwork] faces. I would love to set-up an agroforestry system, perhaps looking at horticultural beds with agroforestry strips on some land – like a market garden set-up but also involving some fibre or fuel production within that.

Like a lot of people, I’m very interested in localism and building resilient communities, having transparent supply chains because so much today is opaque. Where do these things come from? What are we buying? What are we consuming? I would like to have some input on how the local food system is changing for the better. I’m currently in a phase of skilling up – I’ve got a university degree but that really doesn’t prepare you for a career in food and farming although it does give you a grounding in some of the theory behind what goes on.

You’re just about to start a job with the Royal Horticultural Society – how did that come about?

The job title is a ‘Specialist Horticultural Placement in Edibles’, it’s essentially one up from an apprenticeship but I get a salary and somewhere to live, which is nice. It’s three years, down in Devon.

All the RHS gardens have the ‘Specialist Horticultural Placements’, and while I’m acutely aware that it’s not really the scale that I’m looking to produce at, I think they are very well regarded. I just want to see how they do it and learn from their programme – though in the future I want to see a more scaled up market garden where they’re taking things to market rather than being just a demonstration garden.

Are there things that concern you as a grower?

I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door in the industry. There’s a kind of expectation that you will have hundreds of hours of volunteering. There’s basically no other way in, especially if you have no family ties to the work. Unpaid training is essentially your only way in. You might get some tickets in return, you might get the experience of working with people who know what they are doing, often leaders in the field. What you don’t get is any financial remuneration. I had a bit of support from my parents but if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be able to get into the industry. That’s something that talking to other people that I know is a really big struggle for new entrants.

I really want to be part of the ecology of my local area, shaping land – I love outdoor work. But also being driven by wanting to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. And in my own mind that helps you deal with a lot of the anxieties around the climate crisis. If you’re part of the solution, it really helps you deal with those anxieties.