Reclaiming Roots: The Young Workers Return to Agriculture

I’ve seen the reality of the agricultural landscape and it looks bleak. POLITICO recently published an article on Pennsylvania’s solution for “young people” not wanting to farm. While Pennsylvania is doing an impressive job at making farming more alluring to younger workers, the fact remains that the average age of U.S. farm workers is 57.5 years old. Younger generations are gravitating towards more urban areas to pursue other career options. Millennials and Gen Z watched their parents and grandparents toil in the fields under harsh conditions and most of them responded with a big “No thanks!” The farm doesn't care if you're sick, the farm doesn't allow for you to go on vacation when you want to, the farm doesn't care if you don't want to wake up early, the farm doesn’t care that the bills are due. 

What younger generations are looking for in work is vastly different from the generations before them. Traditional farming consumes your lifestyle whereas young workers want autonomy, freedom, flexible schedules, education, career development, competitive wages and health benefits- often not offered or affordable in traditional farming. 

In addition to open communication, we also need to embrace innovation in modern farming.
— Shayla Eberst, Chief of Staff

What happens when current farmers gray out without a younger generation to take over? Imports increase, food costs continue to sky-rocket to keep up with distribution costs, fossil fuel emissions rise, food safety risks grow…the list goes on. 

While that all sounds scary, hope is not lost. There are actionable steps we can take to change the future of farming. It starts with investing in those who will be here after we are gone; our young workers. There are ways to entice the next generation to return to agriculture- let’s give them what they need! 

Millennials and Gen Z need a “why” in choosing their career path. The answer to the “why” question in agriculture, specifically Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) is sustainability, climate control, reliable and safe domestic food production. The simple answer, they know they can make a difference. 

“But nobody wants to work anymore”False. Publications dating back to 1894 have printed generations making these statements about the next generations. This just isn’t true. Millennials and Gen Z’ers want to work but they also want to be fulfilled, they want to have a purpose, and they crave work-life balance. These young workers have watched previous generations work their fingers to the bone in a dying industry. They are not “entitled”. They know what they want and they speak up to ask for it. 

At Eden Green, where I manage our recruitment and retention efforts, we have a young workforce (85% 30 years old or younger) who show up day in and day out to farm produce and herbs. Here’s how we are able to retain them: we are creating a work environment that fosters open communication.

When employees come to us, we start a conversation. We ask questions, listen to responses, and collaborate on solutions. If an employee asks for flexibility, we work with them on creating a schedule that works for their life and for the company. If they ask for career development, we create a leadership development program. If they ask for more education, we create a training program. If they ask for better benefits, we look at benefits options and provide plan options so that they have the freedom to choose what works best for their families. We’ve embraced a culture of speaking up and saying it loudly, and then we back it up by listening and changing the way we support this new wave of modern farmers. To some industries this may sound like a no-brainer, but I can assure you that these commodities are scarce in traditional agriculture and we remain the minority in the CEA space. 

Since implementing this cultural shift in hiring young workers and embracing a culture of open communication, we have seen our retention rate go from hovering around 60% to a retention rate of 88% or higher over the span of a year. 

Lead Maintenance Technician at Eden Green: Michaela Moncrief

This is Not Your Grandpa’s Farm: 

In addition to open communication, we also need to embrace innovation in modern farming. Innovations in CEA industries are working to solve food scarcities with high crop yields that are sustainable, consistent, reliable and safe year round. Embracing technological advancements and desk job benefits in the agricultural industry will not only help to alleviate the strain from aging farmers but will welcome young farmers into a new world of agriculture with opportunities to apply engineering, data science, and HVAC to the agricultural industry. Young workers who have flocked to urban areas to work in a world of tech can now have the opportunity to apply those skills in the agricultural world. A win-win!

This new, cutting edge approach to work in a traditional industry offers young workers options like flexible scheduling, educational opportunities in sustainable farming, career development through mentorship programs or government advocacy, leadership training through community engagement, and not to mention full medical, dental, vision and 401(k) options. 

Through compassion, embracing change and working collaboratively, we can empower young workers to have fulfilling, compatible and long lasting careers that can transform the future of agriculture. Let’s ensure the hands that feed us are nurtured, supported and valued for many generations to come.

Written by: Shayla Eberst
-Chief of Staff at Eden Green Technology-
Shayla Eberst

Shayla Eberst serves as the Chief of Staff at Eden Green Technology, a pioneering company in the field of vertical farming based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. With deep roots in Texas, Shayla has leveraged her extensive experience and leadership skills to support the company's mission of providing sustainable and locally-grown produce through innovative agricultural technology.

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