Unlocking Hidden Farmers: Part 4
Farmers are old and getting older. According to the Department of labor, the median age of farmers is 55.9 years old, making farming the second oldest occupation in the country. Not only that, but farmers are getting older. The USDA’s Census of Agriculture recently released new data that shows the average age (slightly different than the median age) of farmers grew from 50.5 to 58.3 years over the last 30 years. This fact has many implications on our food system.
Over the last few months, we’ve discussed many “hidden” populations of potential farmers, including our schools, the developmentally disabled, and the prison population. One thing these groups have in common is they all benefit from aquaponics while providing food for their communities. These groups are also all typically younger populations, especially school students! Groups like this will help drive the average age of farmers down, helping to extend our food production beyond the current generation.
That being said, the group of hidden potential farmers I want to discuss today will most certainly raise the average age of farmers even higher. In fact, this group is already a major factor in the climbing average age of our food producers. The Baby Boomers, the massive generation born at the end of World War 2, is hitting retirement age. They’re expected to live much longer than previous generations too. Many current farmers are part of this generation, which factors into the aging occupation.
Reaping the Harvest of a Good Life
So why would any senior want to be a farmer? Aren’t our golden years supposed to be reserved for relaxing?
Benefits of gardening for seniors has been well documented. The constant light activity brings the benefits of exercise plus interaction with living plants and fish brings many psychological benefits like decreased stress and increased well-being. Known applications include physical therapy patients who are looking for unstructured light exercise. The garden offers a gentle arena for physical expression that helps the patient “work out” longer because their mind is occupied on the task of gardening.
A good session of gardening provides a healthy workout for the body and the mind. Gardening has shown benefits with Alzheimer’s patients, including greater cognition and coherency. Gardening involves delicate handwork, continuous attention, and other simple but beneficial tasks which all stimulate the mind, acting like a mental workout.
Bottom line is, gardening is great for seniors, but … gardening is not farming. That is what has kept the aging population from taking part in the greater harvest until now. How can aquaponics unlock this hidden group of potential farmers? Aquaponics lends itself well to senior farming because it can be done at waist height to reduce strain, opening up the activity to anyone in a wheelchair. A vertical tower or DWC raft can easily be handled by most seniors, including those in wheelchairs. Additionally, using social fish like koi can bring further benefits like a therapeutic pet. On top of all this, the increased production from aquaponics farms in senior centers and assisted living facilities can grow a great deal of food in a small space.
Intentionally Raising the Average Age of Farmers?
Senior living centers are exploding across the US and most of the world. This poses a problem for pension funds, but a potential opportunity for the agricultural industry. With the Baby-Boomers hitting retirement age, this population is a rapidly growing group of potential farmers.
Seniors can farm themselves to better health and cultivate more fulfilling golden years for themselves and their community. The food they grow can be used on-site to bring healthy locally grown options to the seniors who grew it. The food could also be sold locally to generate a sustainable revenue for the seniors while bringing food security to the community.
In this way, aquaponic farming allows seniors to lead fulfilling lives while continuing to provide for their community. The profit from senior farms can also help offset the rising costs of elder care and offset the massive cost of entitlements for the swelling retired population. This creates a mutually beneficial system and fosters abundance in our local food systems.
Another Piece of the Local Food System Puzzle
Just like every community has a school, every community has a senior population as well. Together, the community’s youth and senior farmers are both anchor tenants in the distributed food system of the future. In a future where farming is more accessible and productive than ever, new farmers like this will help our communities provide food sustainably while creating meaningful social impact.