Alex Cacciari, 30, bounced around her kitchen preparing dinner with calloused, weathered hands at the end of a long day working her land. Owning a small organic farm on the north side of Ann Arbor, Cacciari, and her husband Mark Nowak, represent a tiny population of young farmers amidst a generation of “Old-Timers” as she puts it. In a recent study done by the USDA, the number of farmers in the U.S. under the age of 36 has been steadily dropping since 1950. With only 118,000 of these young farmers, a mere 13% of the young farmers in 1950, the U.S. faces the problem of filling this apparent generation gap in the farming industry.
Go back in time, Cacciari, as a recent graduate from a small college in Oregon, began working on farms across the country, including a sheep farm on the east coast called “Seeley Farm” after which hers is named. As a child of the suburbs, Cacciari’s love for farming didn’t start until after college. She says, “I think if you do farm work, you just get to this point where you can’t work for someone else anymore;” she goes on, “you just want to start your own farm.” It wasn’t long before Cacciari began seeding her future as a young farmer in the Ann Arbor area.
Five years ago, Cacciari moved to Ann Arbor and began working with Tilian Farm Development Program. This would be the beginnings of her life as a farm owner. Since then, she and her husband began renting a 30-acre plot on the North side of town where Seeley Farm resides. They are a “certified organic diversified vegetable farm,” as their website states, and are in their third year of production. Cacciari’s involvement in farming, however, does not stop at Seeley Farm.
As a member of the Ann Arbor Township Farmland and Open Space Preservation Board, Cacciari actively participates in the protection of land throughout Ann Arbor and its Townships through the purchase of development rights under what is known as “The Greenbelt Millage.” Passed in 2003, the 30-year millage aims to prevent the development of parks, farmland, and open space, in an effort to thwart the effects of urban sprawl. As of 2013, the millage has successfully purchased the rights to over 4,200 acres of land, of which 37 farms are protected. Cacciari, having played a role in this effort, says, “The Township is feeling pretty good about achieving its goals.”
With the threat of an older generation of farmers dying out, passionate young farmers like Cacciari play an important role in the longevity of farming in the U.S. . Though recent studies suggest that the population of young farmers is at an extreme low, there seems to be a trend that brings a younger generation back to farming. As other studies suggest, 54% of the farming population now is comprised of young women and men between the ages of 25 and 34. With that upward trend, people like Cacciari will be the future of a new generation of farming.
As Cacciari and her husband sat down for dinner, a tasty medley of vegetables grown on their farm, they swapped smiles with tired eyes and intermixed yawns, as if tokens of their hard, yet proud day of work. Their son, Henry, happily bouncing on a knee, representing what co