Young Farmers Are Building a Sustainable Food Future

In the past 15 years, the number of farmers under 35 has increased for only the second time in a century. Almost 70 percent of them are bringing a college education to the fields as well as new and exciting ideas for cutting down on waste from farm to table.

Casey Cox, 26, is one of those millennial farmers who manages a 2,400-acre peanut, soybean and sweet corn farm with her parents in Georgia. But it almost didn’t happen. It was only after she left for college that Cox realized what a unique opportunity she had to be a part of her family’s 150-year farming legacy.

“My family raised me with an emphasis on the value of stewardship,” said Cox. “As a next-generation farmer, I feel so blessed, lucky and privileged to be carrying on this heritage of production after five generations into the sixth. I want the seventh, eighth and ninth generations to have the same opportunities that I do.”

Cox now views food waste as one of the biggest issues for farmers and consumers of her generation.

To the north, in Pennsylvania, Brett Reinford helps to manage his family’s dairy farm. The information he uses from his college experience proved to be a serendipitous windfall, setting the course for his farm’s future.

In 2008, Reinford stumbled upon a few articles about digesters in his biology class. Digesters function like giant stomachs, using bacteria to break down manure and food waste, and produce methane gas that becomes a clean fuel to power farm equipment and homes. He presented the idea to his dad, who loved it, and put his plan in motion.

A decade later, the Reinford Farms’ digester produces enough methane to power their operation and about 100 nearby homes. The Reinfords “feed” their digester daily with 12,000 gallons of manure and 6,000-12,000 gallons of food waste from area grocery stores.

It’s easy to get excited about farming’s future when you meet today’s up-and-coming farmers and find out about the sustainable ways they’re combatting food waste in the fields and at home. Read more about how farmers find ways to reduce food waste in their communities.