Organic produce buyer Joshua Arzt lives with constant low-level produce anxiety.
His ongoing worries include frosts, floods, heatwaves (hail is a category all of its own), transport problems, picker shortages, any one of which can mean whole lines of produce just disappear.
Joshua’s biggest fear however is getting news that a key organic farmer like Maurie Cafra (asparagus & brassicas), Don Edwards (apples & stone fruit), Rob Bauer (root veg) or Joe Sgro (potatoes, greens, leeks) is retiring and selling their farm.
When Ian Cuming, Fair Food’s organic kiwifruit grower, retired a few years ago around 30% of the local organic kiwifruit supply disappeared overnight.
It may come as a surprise but there are only a couple of medium sized organic pear growers in Australia. There are just a handful of organic onion, carrot, asparagus, sweet potato and banana growers. Organic stone fruit orchardists are particularly thin on the ground.
In his thirty years as an organic produce buyer Joshua has watched the organic sector grow, and while it’s so much bigger today, it still counts for only a couple of percent of the food eaten in this country.
This is why whenever a new grower comes to Joshua he works hard to buy their produce and support them to stay with organic farming.
He knows some of these new farmers growing veg on an acre or two of borrowed land will one day become our major organic growers.
He also knows these young farmers bring the innovation – the tasty heirloom tomatoes we love so much, the new varieties of greens, the gourmet mushrooms, the spray-free flowers.
And he knows these farmers are the ones to take a chance on new regenerative ways to grow, or preserve, or package, or transport, or connect with their First Nations community.
Right now however, the cost of living crisis means fewer and fewer of us are buying our food from young organic farmers.
“Don’t believe the shiny social media presence: everyone is drowning under the task of making their farms viable.
Farm managers are sacrificing their incomes to pay their staff well and continue to provide food for their community. They do it because they love it.
But how long can we go on like this? The answer is in the attrition of young people from farming.
On Thursday in The Weekly Times with egg farmer Madeleine Scott on the front page, Fair Food called on the State and Federal governments to support the next generation of young farmers through the cost of living crisis.
Like we do in health, construction and other essential industries, we need to nurture the the new growers who will one day feed us.
And while the government has its role to play, we as eaters have ours too.
If we want their new ideas and connection to land
If we want the wonderful variety and new tastes they bring us
If we want them to one day take on the organic farms that feed so many of us today
Then we need to stick with our new farmers through the hard seasons as well as the good.
Have a great week