July 13 2022 08:00 AM

New perspective comes from giving people the space to follow their ideas.

This summer, I was asked to be part of a project being spearheaded by a group of college interns. It’s about bridging the gap between farmers and consumers as well as bringing awareness to mental health struggles within agriculture, so it seemed like a good fit. As they’re working on how to present their ideas to farmers, part of the focus has been on how to get them to open up about their struggles. When I was listening to their ideas and plans, it hit me — they won’t be able to. As college students, whether they’ve spent their entire lives in ag or not, they’re going to have a ridiculously hard time getting farmers to truthfully and fully answer their questions. Do you know why? Because they’re “just kids.”

It happens in all walks of life, but I think it’s true especially in agriculture. We’re writing off the upcoming generation before they even get here. We dismiss their ideas as youthful, power-hungry ploys and say things like “We tried that back in the 80’s and it just didn’t work,” or “That seems like a lot of work for one person.” Just because we can’t see their vision doesn’t mean it doesn’t have potential. We also devalue their experience. They’re growing up in a vastly different world than we did. Do they have as much experience as we do? Obviously not. But their struggles and accomplishments are preparing them for a very different life than the one we’ve grown up to live.

Older generations will say their advice is based on experience, and it is, but how did they get that experience? By brainstorming and trying and failing and then trying all over again. We can’t let our past experiences stop young farmers from failing all on their own. Their failures will lead to successes, which will lead to innovation and invention. And if there’s one thing agriculture desperately needs right now, it’s innovation and invention.

Maybe I’m writing this article because I’m a little bitter. I’ve been nominated for multiple board positions only to be quickly passed over for older, more agreeable people who “won’t cause waves.” And honestly, at 37, I'm not entirely sure I can even still call myself a young farmer. But I know that there are younger, smarter people out there than me with big ideas and the drive to try and make them realities. I think we need to try harder to make sure they know they can.

Jessica Peters

The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.