Malcolm McDowell Woods
Outpost Exchange

Field is ripe for young farmers

By - Sep 30th, 2009 11:31 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email
Field is ripe for young farmers
by Cheryl Angelroth
In 2002, the USDA reported that the average farmer in the U.S. was 55 years old, and fewer farmers were entering the field, leaving us with an aging workforce. Improved labor efficiency was making up for the difference, fending off any threat to the nation’s food security, but causing concern about the way farming is done.
Fast forward to 2009, and things have changed a little. As a nation, we are growing ever more concerned with our food, where it comes from and how it is made. Anecdotal evidence suggests more people are becoming vested in their food, joining CSA’s, shopping locally and buying organic, and growing their own food. And more people are becoming farmers. The Mother Nature Network online (www.mnn.com) recently profiled “40 Farmers Under 40” from across the nation. They were young men and women who wanted to restore their connection to their food and the land. The web site did not mention any Wisconsin farmers, however, so we decided to find three young ones and give them a well-earned nod.
Three farmers, three different types of farming and three unique sets of challenges: Rick Roden, Tim Huth and Stacy Cushenberry each represent the future of farming in southeastern Wisconsin. Their backgrounds and challenges are distinct and each works to address them differently, but all three share a love of the land, of hard work and of family and community.
#1) Rick Roden: Upholding a long-standing Wisconsin dairy tradition
Herd manager & part owner, Rob-n-Cin Farms, Newburg, Wis.
Age: 25
Rob-n-Cin Farms is the sort of operation depicted on our state’s license plate and often seen from its highways — a 2,000-acre diversified conventional family farm. This farm milks 400c cows and grows cash crops; including corn, soybeans, winter wheat, alfalfa hay and sweet corn.  Rick Roden is the farm’s 25-year old herd manager and a part owner in the operation.
Roden enjoys farming because of its variety and because of the closeness with the herd and the land. He explains, “Every day is something different — from milking cows and seeing the newborn calves in the morning, to being able to work the land and drive some pretty cool equipment in the afternoon and evening. It makes each day exciting and fun.” For Roden, growing is a family tradition — both sets of his grandparents were farmers and his parents both work on the farm to this day. He and his family farm because they believe in the industry and they work hard to support it.
In addition to his responsibilities at Rob-n-Cin, Roden is the District 1 Chair Elect for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer and Agriculturist Program, a program that provides networking and professional development opportunities to support the state’s farmers and agriculturalists between the ages of 18 and 35. According to Roden, just getting started can be tough for these young farmers. The high equipment and land cost can be a barrier, particularly for those not from farm families; and even for those already started, there are market and legislative challenges that are hard to tackle alone.
Roden plans to continue farming and hopes to buy into Rob-n-Cin sometime in the future. He aims to stay in the dairy industry but given the changes in the industry, he expects that will require him to expand the herd and facilities.
#2) Tim Huth: A farming convert builds a new tradition
Manager, LotFotL Community Farm, East Troy, Wis.
Age: 29
Unlike Rick Roden, Tim Huth didn’t come from a long line of farmers. This season marks only his fourth year of living off of the land in a literal sense. Huth runs Living off the Fat of the Land (LotFotL) Community Farm, a 9.5-acre biodynamic community farm growing produce in East Troy, Wis. LotFotL is a third-year incubator farm of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI) and has grown from just one to nearly 10 acres under Huth’s management.
Tim Huth came to farming after learning of agriculture’s “brain drain” and seeing how people were becoming divorced from their food. He completed his degree in sociology at Milwaukee’s Carroll College and tried to start intentional communities but he quickly realized that a lack of practical skills would hamper these communities’ success. “So,” as Huth puts it, “I decided to get better at growing food.” To get better, Huth worked at Good Harvest Market in Waukesha, where he learned what buyers look for in produce; and then moved to Whitewater, where he managed and ran an 80-member CSA. “I loved it. It was great. I never worked that hard in my life, and I got tons of confidence out of it.”
Not coming from a farm family, Huth is especially appreciative of the knowledge shared by older generations of farmers. “They know their pieces of land,” he says. “It’s so amazing; they can diagnose a piece of equipment so quickly.”
Huth plans to continue farming and hopes to grow into a much larger operation next season.
#3) Stacy Cushenberry and the students of the Academy of Leadership and Learning: Planting the Seeds for an Urban Agricultural Future
Garden Educator, Teutonia Urban Gardens, Milwaukee
Ages: 4-24
Teutonia Urban Gardens (TUG) is a half-acre educational garden, operating organically (although not certifiably so) in Milwaukee’s inner city. Like so many other urban gardens, TUG has an important educational mission. Garden educator Stacy Cushenberry runs the garden and teaches the youngest farmers we found — the students of the Academy of Leadership and Learning (ALL).
The garden grows a wide variety of the produce favored by its farmers’ families, including cucumbers, okra, collard greens, eggplants, zucchini, corn, peppers and tomatoes. But what the garden really aims to nurture is mind and spirit. “We want to help the kids be outside in a safe environment,” Stacy explains, “…it helps with so many things in their lives. Being out in a green space seems to calm even the kids with attention issues.”
Fresh produce is particularly important in this area of the city, where corner stores are plentiful and grocery stores are not. Cushenberry became personally involved in the issue of nutrition in the inner city after she started to volunteer in the city as a student at UW-Milwaukee. Stacy quickly realized that there was a food access issue when she saw kids eating salty snacks for breakfast. In her two years working with TUG, she has seen it not only positively affect the students, but also the surrounding community. “It’s slowly becoming a meeting place. It’s a garden but it’s more than just veggies; it’s a place where the community can connect.” Her vision is for it to continue to connect people by inspiring other gardens and garden clubs in the backyards lining the alley where TUG currently sits.
Urban gardens face special challenges and often work to accomplish different goals from their more rural counterparts. Often these goals are related to education, nutrition, community-building and economic development. In cities, residents who have become estranged from their food can restore that connection through gardens.
Urban gardens are especially vulnerable to development pressures. Many urban growers do not own their land and so partnerships become very important. For instance, local urban agriculturalist Nicole Jain Capizzi partners with the Milwaukee County Cooperative Extension to operate Honey Hill Gardens, an urban educational CSA at Firefly Ridge Community Garden in Wauwatosa that acts as a model for those seeking to start profitable urban agriculture businesses.
“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens,” said Thomas Jefferson. If that is the case, then we are raising some very valuable citizens. To learn more about young farmers in the United States, go to www.thegreenhorns.net, where you’ll find links to a documentary film about young people venturing into the field.
Spotted on a farmer's truck in East Troy, Wis., this bumper sticker reads "family farm defender." The farming industry is benefiting from more young entrepreneurs entering the field, thanks in large part to a growing national interest in the food system, and a desire to return to the earth. Photo by Liz Setterfield

Spotted on a farmer’s truck in East Troy, Wis., this bumper sticker reads “family farm defender.” The farming industry is benefiting from more young entrepreneurs entering the field, thanks in large part to a growing national interest in the food system, and a desire to return to the earth. Photo by Liz Setterfield

By Cheryl Angelroth

In 2002, the USDA reported that the average farmer in the U.S. was 55 years old, and fewer farmers were entering the field, leaving us with an aging workforce. Improved efficiency was making up for the difference, fending off any threat to the nation’s food security, but causing concern about the way farming is done.

Fast forward to 2009, and things have changed a little. As a nation, we are growing ever more concerned with our food, where it comes from and how it is made. Anecdotal evidence suggests more people are becoming vested in their food, joining CSA’s, shopping locally, buying organic, and growing their own food. And more people are becoming farmers, conventional and organic both. We decided to find three farmers under 40 and give them a well-earned nod.

Three farmers, three different types of farming and three unique sets of challenges: Rick Roden, Tim Huth and Stacy Cushenberry each represent the future of farming in southeastern Wisconsin. Their backgrounds and challenges are distinct and each works to address them differently, but all three share a love of the land, of hard work and of family and community.

Rick Roden: Herd manager & part owner, Rob-n-Cin Farms, Newburg, Wis. Age: 25

A newborn calf - just hours old - at Rob N Cin Farms in Newburg, Wis. Photo by Liz Setterfield

A newborn calf – just hours old – at Rob-n-Cin Farms in Newburg, Wis. Photo by Liz Setterfield

Rob-n-Cin Farms is the sort of operation depicted on our state’s license plate and often seen from its highways — a 2,000-acre diversified conventional family farm. This farm milks 400c cows and grows cash crops; including corn, soybeans, winter wheat, alfalfa hay and sweet corn.  Rick Roden is the farm’s 25-year old herd manager and a part owner in the operation.

Roden enjoys farming because of its variety and because of the closeness with the herd and the land. He explains, “Every day is something different — from milking cows and seeing the newborn calves in the morning, to being able to work the land and drive some pretty cool equipment in the afternoon and evening. It makes each day exciting and fun.”

For Roden, growing is a family tradition — both sets of his grandparents were farmers and his parents both work on the farm to this day. He and his family farm because they believe in the industry and they work hard to support it.

In addition to his responsibilities at Rob-n-Cin, Roden is the District 1 Chair Elect for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer and Agriculturist Program, which provides networking and professional development opportunities to farmers between the ages of 18 and 35. According to Roden, just getting started can be tough for young people. The high equipment and land cost can be a barrier, particularly for those not from farm families; and even for those already started, there are market and legislative challenges that are hard to tackle alone.

Roden plans to continue farming and hopes to buy into Rob-n-Cin sometime in the future. He aims to stay in the dairy industry but given the changes in the industry, he expects that will require him to expand the herd and facilities.

Tim Huth: Manager, LotFotL Community Farm, East Troy, Wis. Age: 29

Tim Huth does not come from a farming background, but has embraced the lifestyle. he has grown LotFotL Community Farm in East Troy, Wis., from one to 10 acres, and hopes to expand further. Photo by Liz Setterfield

Tim Huth does not come from a farming background, but has embraced the lifestyle. He has grown LotFotL Community Farm in East Troy, Wis., from one to 10 acres, and hopes to expand further. Photo by Liz Setterfield

Unlike Rick Roden, Tim Huth didn’t come from a long line of farmers. This season marks only his fourth year of living off of the land in a literal sense. Huth runs Living off the Fat of the Land (LotFotL) Community Farm, a 9.5-acre biodynamic community farm growing produce in East Troy, Wis. LotFotL is a third-year incubator farm of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI) and has grown from just one to nearly 10 acres under Huth’s management.

Huth came to farming after learning of agriculture’s “brain drain” and seeing how people were becoming divorced from their food. After completing his degree in sociology at Milwaukee’s Carroll College, Huth worked at Good Harvest Market in Waukesha, where he learned what buyers look for in produce; and then moved to Whitewater, where he managed and ran an 80-member CSA. In a CSA, members pay dues and receive regular batches of farm produce.

“I loved it, ” says Huth. “It was great. I never worked that hard in my life, and I got tons of confidence out of it.”

Not coming from a farm family, Huth is especially appreciative of the knowledge shared by older generations of farmers. “They know their pieces of land,” he says. “It’s so amazing; they can diagnose a piece of equipment so quickly.”

Huth plans to continue farming and hopes to grow into a much larger operation next season.

Stacy Cushenberry, Garden Educator, Teutonia Urban Gardens, Milwaukee. Age 24

Teutonia Urban Gardens (TUG) is a half-acre educational garden, operating organically (although not certifiably so) in Milwaukee’s inner city. Like so many other urban gardens, TUG has an important educational mission. Garden educator Stacy Cushenberry runs the garden and teaches the youngest farmers we found — the students of the Academy of Leadership and Learning (ALL).

The garden grows a wide variety of the produce favored by its farmers’ families, including cucumbers, okra, collard greens, eggplants, zucchini, corn, peppers and tomatoes. But what the garden really aims to nurture is mind and spirit. “We want to help the kids be outside in a safe environment,” Stacy explains, “…it helps with so many things in their lives. Being out in a green space seems to calm even the kids with attention issues.”

Fresh produce is particularly important in this area of the city, where corner stores are plentiful and grocery stores are not. Cushenberry became personally involved in the issue of nutrition in the inner city after she started to volunteer in the city as a student at UW-Milwaukee. Stacy quickly realized that there was a food access issue when she saw kids eating salty snacks for breakfast.

In her two years working with TUG, she has seen it not only positively affect the students, but also the surrounding community.“It’s slowly becoming a meeting place. It’s a garden but it’s more than just veggies; it’s a place where the community can connect.”

Her vision is for it to continue to connect people by inspiring other gardens and garden clubs in the backyards lining the alley where TUG currently sits.

Urban gardens face special challenges and often work to accomplish different goals from their more rural counterparts. Often these goals are related to education, nutrition, community-building and economic development. In cities, residents who have become estranged from their food can restore that connection through gardens.

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens,” said Thomas Jefferson. If that is the case, then we are raising some very valuable citizens. To learn more about young farmers in the United States, go to www.thegreenhorns.net, where you’ll find links to a documentary film about young people venturing into the field.

Categories: Uncategorized

0 thoughts on “Outpost Exchange: Field is ripe for young farmers”

  1. Anonymous says:

    That’s quite a cow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *