- In an interview with Business Insider, Kimbal Musk said he sees a growing movement of young, highly educated people leaving their sedentary office jobs to become local and organic farmers.
- The number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the US Department of Agriculture's latest Census of Agriculture.
- This new crop of young farmers will likely continue to bolster the local food movement across the United States.
After more than a decade working in tech, Kimbal Musk (brother of Elon) decided to lean into his true passion: local food. He now runs a chain of local food-focused restaurants called The Kitchen, as well as Big Green, a national nonprofit that builds educational gardens in public schools.
So it might not be surprising that he expects a growing number of young Americans to join him in the local farming movement.
When asked to name a big food trend looking forward into 2018, Musk said he sees millennials flocking to careers in agriculture rather than traditional office jobs.
"For the past 20 years, I think that technology has been a wonderful benefit for us in so many ways, but it's not a very connected life. Social connectivity has really suffered because of technology. But we see urban farmers sell direct-to-consumer and be a part of their community," he told Business Insider. "I see millennials leaving their office jobs to be in the urban farming community, because they get a connection back to their community."
There is some data to back up Musk's hunch. For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers age 25 to 34 is increasing, according to the US Department of Agriculture's latest Census of Agriculture. In some states, including California, Nebraska, and South Dakota, the number of new farmers has grown by 20% or more since 2007. Approximately 69% of these young farmers have college degrees — a figure that's more than double when looking at the general US population.
Musk noticed this trend a few years ago, which is partly why he cofounded Square Roots — an indoor farming accelerator aimed at young Brooklynites — with friend and entrepreneur Tobias Peggs in 2016. The Square Roots compound consists of 10 steel shipping-container farms where farmers develop their indoor farming startups. Unlike traditional outdoor farms, vertical farms grow soil-free crops indoors and under LED lights.
Electra Jarvis, a 28-year-old college graduate who was part of the first Square Roots class, told BI that she went from academia to agriculture so that she could directly impact New York City's local food system. She now manages her own vertical farming business called Green Food Solutions.
As The Washington Post notes, the migration of this new generation to farms could have a wide-reaching impact on the US food system. According to the USDA census, compared to older farmers, those under age 35 are more likely to grow organically, limit their fertiliser and pesticide use, and manage plots that are less than 20 hectares. They are likely contributing to the recent decline in large-scale industrial farming.
"When people try real food, they don't go back to industrial food. It just doesn't taste good," Musk said.