This piece is part of a month-long series of what farming is like today. Stay tuned for more stories like Tim’s and follow along on social with @Tillamook and #AllForFarmers.
By purchasing Tillamook all month long, you can support the work of American Farmland Trust who are helping farmers nationally get ready for the future.
Tim Biello wasn’t born into farming. Farming was a calling that found him.
After completing his undergraduate degree, Tim Biello was attracted to farming because of its unique combination of physical labor, strategy and planning—and an intimate connection to the soil, the sky, and animals around him. It was this yearning for a more fulfilling career that drew him to the rolling, emerald hills of the Hudson Valley 15 years ago. After 10 years of farming and managing, Biello founded Featherbed Lane Farm, a 63-acre plot of mixed woods, wetlands, and abundant fields. Biello also works for American Farmland Trust as a Project Manager and Hudson Valley Farmlink Network Coordinator—where he trains landowners and farmers to address conservation and land-access issues.
Now 40, Mr. Biello has grown Featherbed Lane Farm to be a core part of the Saratoga Springs community in upstate New York. After spending much of his professional life in farming, he realizes most of his peers are not his age.
According to statistics from American Farmland trust, farmers age 65 and older currently own more than 40 percent of the agricultural land in the United States, and estimates indicate more than 370 million acres of farmland will transition in ownership in the next 15 years.
We sat down with Tim to better understand some of the struggles of farming that can be amplified when such a large transition of ownership looms ahead.
Finding a connection to farmers, and good food.
Even as a first-generation farmer, Biello’s seen firsthand the drastic changes happening within the industry. Yet, he still loves what he does and recognizes many others in the farming industry are there because of a true appreciation and love for building community through food and a connection to the earth.
Featherbed Lane Farm now relies upon that connection, as a fully diversified Community Supported Agriculture project (CSA). Though 90% of his business comes directly from his CSA members’ support, they’re not just customers, they’re part of the farm. Featherbed Lane members stop by every week, rain or shine, for fresh produce and eggs—and to catch up with neighbors and friends from town.
Looking to the future.
Despite a greater awareness around farming and where our food comes from, a majority of farmers driving American agriculture are aging.
When reminded of this, Tim explained to us that there is an urgent need to help older farmers successfully transition farms and take care of themselves while making the deal feasible for newer farmers to come in.
We need the ability to access that land securely,” Biello says.
That’s why I’m so inspired by the partnership between AFT and Tillamook. Knowing almost half of the final donation will go toward land protection can help new farmers get set up, or help generational farms keep land within their families.”
Biello sees the upcoming tipping point in ownership as a potential opportunity to educate and attract the next bright, driven generation of farmers. Still, the industry as a whole faces broad challenges to address the age and race gap in farming—and preserving its future may depend on attracting a more diverse base of young farmers to the profession.
According to statistics from American Farmland Trust, only 16% of farmers are under 44 years old—just 8.4% are 34 or under. Female farm owners account for 9% of farm owners, while just 1.4% of farmers are Black, and 3.3% are Hispanic.
Getting the public involved.
Biello encourages all Americans to educate themselves, listen, and continue advocating to remove barriers to entry for younger, more diverse farmers. Biello believes grant programs like AFT’s are essential opportunities for a driven, diverse generation to take up the life and ensure its future.
I think learning, meeting, and supporting the farms in your area is a really good place to start,” Biello says.
And then you can go to other resources that are out there to just start learning more about agriculture in general and the ways in which you can make choices as a consumer that support farms in your community and country. Think big.”
We couldn’t agree more. The future of farming and our food security depends on big ideas, and even bigger action, which is why we are honored to team up with AFT to provide the financial support farmers need in 2020.
To learn more about Tim Biello and Featherbed Lane Farm, click here.