Young people’s attitudes to farming and growing as a career are changing. Increasingly they are looking for more meaningful careers with plenty of responsibility and a sense of community and teamwork - all of which organic farming and growing can offer. For some young farmers, it means carrying on their family business; for others, it’s about leaving behind the city grind and 9-to-5 to embrace nature and the beautiful British countryside. So what can a career in organic farming offer - and how can aspiring young farmers and growers get there?
Ashley Wheeler and his partner Kate run Trill Farm Garden, a market garden producing a variety of tasty organic vegetables and salad leaves. Their 2.5 acre smallholding is nestled into a 300 acre organic farm near Axminster in East Devon. Most of the produce from Ashley and Kate’s patch is sold locally to restaurants, cafes and whole foods shops all within a stone’s throw of the farm.
After studying horticulture at university, Ashley, who grew up on a council smallholding, planned to have a career in historical garden restoration but soon realised his passion lay in growing organic vegetables. When the opportunity to rent Trill Farm’s market garden came up in 2010, he and Kate jumped at the chance - and they haven’t looked back.
Being able to work outdoors and get close to nature was one of Ashley’s main reasons for choosing organic farming as a career. “For both my physical and mental health, being outside and very much in touch with the natural cycle is extremely important to me. It is definitely not all rosy and lovely - working in the freezing cold with rain lashing down during the winter isn't my favourite time to be a grower. But spring comes around and it all seems to work out in the end and overall the benefits of working outside far outweigh the negatives,” he says.
Growing organic veg has also allowed Ashley and Kate to give their two small boys the same strong connection with the outdoors that Ashley experienced on his own family smallholding as a child. “I wanted my own children to have a similar experience, and so like me, they have grown up on a farm and it is just normal for them,” he says. “They help out every now and again, but I think more importantly they understand where food comes from and how it is produced. The close connection to nature is also really important in having a respect for it, which is exactly what we need from the next generation.”
Growing also allows Ashley, Kate and their children some unforgettable - and unlikely - encounters with wildlife: “You get to witness special moments when you are outside all the time - I have even been flown into by birds three times, including once by a sparrowhawk!”
Ashley believes organic farming can be an attractive option for younger people: “There are obvious environmental benefits, and I think this is really important to new farmers and growers.” Equally important, he feels, are opportunities for young people to get into the business - which is why Trill Farm Garden runs a traineeship scheme where new growers come and learn for two seasons - giving them a real taste of what it takes to be successful.
Another traineeship scheme has also helped kick start the careers of young growers. For more than 10 years, the Soil Association’s Future Growers scheme has trained young people to produce organic fruit and vegetables sustainably and profitably by providing apprenticeships on established organic farms. One such grower was Hannah Norman, who trained on the scheme and now works at the Soil Association.
Hannah explains: “The Future Growers scheme has a bigger aim than just to teach people how to grow organic vegetables. It shows how to approach organic horticulture as an actual career, by providing training on business planning, finances and marketing as well as the practical knowledge needed to succeed as a grower. It provides the opportunity to learn about the organic industry as a whole and how organic farming on different levels fits into the bigger picture.”
“Young people are more aware of the bigger environmental impact of farming, and generally speaking more conscious of sustainability, climate change and other pressing environmental issues,” says Hannah. As a result, she believes that organic can be an attractive option to aspiring growers as it positively addresses some of the industry’s biggest challenges.
Hannah’s advice to those thinking about a career in organic is simple: “Organic farming is not a job, but a lifestyle choice. Organic growing is probably one of the most difficult jobs you will ever have, but equally the most rewarding!”
Every time you choose organic food you are supporting growers like Ashley and Hannah, who are working hard to change the UK food system for the better. Just look for the green EU organic leaf logo, to find food and drink you can trust.
Inspired to grow your own at home? Check out our beginner’s guide to organic growing [link] to find out how to get started. Or, if you’re interested in working in organic farming, find out more via the Soil Association’s Future Growers scheme.