At the recent Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C., farmers, senators, members of Congress, nonprofit and business leaders, media, and young entrepreneurs joined forces to discuss the topic “Cultivating the Next Generation of Young Food Leaders” in partnership with George Washington University.

The discussions at the event were rich, and multifaceted. Key objectives were to discuss how to support and encourage the growth of young farmers and food leaders in the U.S., at a time when the average farmer is over 58 years of age; how to educate the next generation about food and improve the school food system, and how to make an impact on food production from the consumer side. Also discussed were the challenges for people of color. It’s an essential, intertwined circle where farmers and consumers must work together to be a part of the solution.

We learned that there is an omnipresent gap in the farming community that urgently needs to be filled, and can only be done by providing the proper resources to ensure our farmers are successful. Key to this is the Farm Bill, which currently is under review in Congress. Within this, it was made clear that farmers need more resources, access to capital, land, healthcare, and loan forgiveness. Currently, farmers are so burdened that many are facing an existential crisis, leading to an increased suicide rate and an urgent call for mental health support. They have some support via groups like the Young Farmers Coalition, the FFA, and Conservation Stewardship Program. Those that are part of cooperatives like Organic Valley farms have additional support.

It was heartening to hear was that there are about 15 farmers in Congress, and that most bills that go through the Ag committee have bipartisan support. However, clear reform is needed to the farm bill with 80% oriented for nutrition programs, including SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) – most recently in the news for the proposed and much disputed “Harvest Box” alternative. Farmers, who invest heavily in infrastructure and draw in low salaries due to climate issues and the forces of supply and demand, are in dire need of support. Farmers of color who face discrimination need additional resources and support.

Ultimately, as one speaker aptly expressed, intergenerational collaboration is key to a food system that is healthy and just. Farmers need the support of our government, other farmers, communities, and individual consumers – via funding, educational support, and appreciation.

-Guest blogger Jennifer O’Flanagan of FeastPR