Sunday, June 25, 2006

Some Baby Boomers Choosing Organic, Local Farming as Second Career

Unfortunately, there aren't many instances of my professional work (in long-term care, elder and disability issues) overlapping with my avocation (sustainability and the environment), but this week it happened: the AARP Bulletin has an article this month on a trend of Baby Boomers going "back to the land," and starting small, often organic, farms as second careers:

In an age of industrial agriculture on a global scale, the business of growing and selling food locally seems an unlikely second career. But a confluence of market forces and social trends is luring boomers anxious to connect with the soil later in life.

"This is the generation that read Rachel Carson [Silent Spring, 1962] and began looking for alternatives to pesticides," says Elaine Marie Lipson, author of The Organic Foods Sourcebook (McGraw-Hill Contemporary Books). "They wanted to change the world, and they did. They're economically powerful, and they're interested in having healthy, energetic lives. And they always will be."

Celebrity chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and other professional foodies tapped into the trend in the 1970s and helped accelerate it. They hooked a segment of boomers on the taste and health advantages of fresh-from-the-farm food over products packaged and then shipped across continents before they reach supermarket aisles.

Demand spurred supply, creating opportunities for new approaches to old ideas about community agriculture. Instead of having to ramp up production to achieve economies of scale to compete in a global commodities market, even relatively small-scale farmers can make a go of it by thinking local.

That's reflected by an uptick in small farms - 10 to 49 acres - according to the federal government's latest Census of Agriculture. And among farmers in their jobs four years or less, 27 percent are age 55 or older.

The article describes a sort of socio-cultural-economic "perfect storm": Baby Boomers have built up assets over traditional careers, and are interested in spending and investing that money in ways that fit their values. So, we're not only seeing the growth of small, environmentally-minded farms, but also the growth of farmers' markets and CSAs. Additionally, all Americans are more concerned about the health value of the food they eat, and see a connection between locally-produced food and nutrition. Ultimately, let's hope this is a big part of the legacy Baby Boomers leave to the rest of us: after the "greed is good" eighties and "go-go" nineties, it looks like many Boomers feel like they can return to some of that idealism they found in the sixties.

BTW, one of my colleagues and I are blogging at work, so if you're at all interested in elder and disability issues, check out our work at The Long-Term Care Weblog (which we're thinking hard about renaming...).

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