Breaking soil

Tetil holds two large squash, grown on her small plot at the MSU North Farm in Chatham. Tetil is part of the Apprentice Farmer Program, which allows fledgling farmers to utilize a small plot of land to test their hand at running their own operation, without the commitment of purchasing land and farm equipment.

Story by Sam Henke, Marquette Food Co-op • Photos courtesy of Bean Pole Farm

So do you think the U.P. is a good place to start a farm?” I ask the young and enterprising farmer while she is on a break between her other, non-farming jobs. She hesitates then laughs, “. . .if you’re crazy!”

Landen Tetil is the owner and operator of Bean Pole Farm, a small, diversified vegetable and flower farm located in Chatham. In her 20s, Landen is a new kind of farmer. The average age of farmers in the U.P. and across the country is climbing, from around 50 in the 1980s to nearly 60 years old in the most recent data available from the USDA Census of Agriculture.

Dovetailing with the increasing age of farmers is the difficulty in transferring farm ownership as older farmers retire. Farms have traditionally been passed down from generation to generation as a family business, but in the last few decades the trend has moved toward consolidation into larger, corporate-owned farms. This model has not seen widespread adoption in the U.P., where commercial, non-family farms make up a tiny proportion of total farmland. Without a son or daughter to take up the duties, and a lack of corporate interest in the challenging farming conditions the U.P. presents, what happens to a farm when an aging farmer wants to retire?…

To read the full story, please pick up a copy of this months Marquette Monthly at one of our distribution outlets.

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