By Tilden Bowditch
Local farmers worry the cost and effort of farming will deter the next generation from working in the agriculture industry, said Rockbridge County farmer Marshall Glass.
“The younger people are just not interested,” said Charlie Potter, owner of Buffalo Creek Beef in Lexington.
The United States Department of Agriculture shows the average age of farmers has been over 50 since 1974. Today, more than 20 percent of farmers say they are retired.
Potter and other local farmers discussed these concerns at the fifth annual Rockbridge Grown potluck dinner at R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church last Thursday. Rockbridge Grown is a community group that promotes producing and buying local foods.
Attendees brought locally grown and organic dishes to share, including homemade bread, Thai curried carrots, broccoli sautéed with garlic, venison stew and locally raised pork.
“It’s the best pork you’ll ever put in your mouth,” said farmer Marshall Glass as he carefully sliced the red, juicy meat he brought from Glass View Farms in Natural Bridge Station
Like many at the event, Glass began farming when he retired.
“I always wanted to be a farmer when I was a little kid,” said Glass, who grew up on a 40-acre farm in Buena Vista. After retiring from teaching five years ago, Glass said he hasn’t had any trouble keeping busy.
“It’s full time. If you don’t like doing this, you’re better off doing something else,” he said .
Despite the statistics, some local teens have taken an interest in the demanding industry.. More than 10 percent of Rockbridge County High School students are involved in the Future Farmers of America program.
“We’re not huge, but we’re growing,” said Jessica Kelly, the agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at RCHS. Kelly credited this growth to the priority the school and county give to the program.
Most of the 98 students in FFA live on farms. Those who don’t, work on dairy farms or do seasonal farm work throughout the year, said Kelly
“Rockbridge County is unique in that many kids can walk right out of high school and onto a farm,” said Kelly who grew up on a 600-acre farm in Culpeper.
High school sophomore and FFA member Jeremy Ramsey said his parents own a small, local farm as well as an auto shop.
“I’ll either take [the farm] over or go into auto mechanics,” said Ramsey.
Junior Will Mohler, another FFA member, said he is considering going into agriculture after graduation.
“We’ve always had land rented and run a few cows, but it’s nothing I could take on,” said Mohler. “I’m either going to go out west or to a four-year college to study agriculture.”
She said the “old school mentality” of working on the family’s farm instead of going to college, is fading out.
Money also plays a big role. “Unless you’re left land and a farm there’s no way you can buy land and start farming,” said Potter.
Potter, who is a 7th generation farmer, said his son is taking over his farm while he focuses on developing his business
“When you have less people involved in agriculture, you get another generation away from the grassroots,” said Potter.
“So I reckon that’s one reason, you want younger people involved because they’re going to be the future.”