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More Than Milk: Building a New Generation of Farmers, One Goat at a Time


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Spark Public

More Than Milk: Building a New Generation of Farmers, One Goat at a Time

Left Foot Farm is helping to inspire the next generation of food-growers.

September 14, 2017

It’s no secret that millennials are foodie-centric. In recent years, farm-to-table restaurants, locally-sourced artisan markets and organic farmers markets have exploded in popularity. Yet the future of small-town farming doesn’t look as promising.

Millennials want to eat good food, but they don’t seem too keen on growing it. Only 6 percent of current American farm owners/operators are underage 34 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There’s also been a significant decrease in the number of new farmers coming onto the scene. 2007–2012 saw a 23 percent drop in new farms operating for less than five years.

And, despite what the headlines may tell you about millennials,  root of this problem goes well beyond their penchant for overpriced avocado toast. If the cards are stacked against young adults who want to purchase homes, just imagine the dilemma presented to those with dreams of moving to the country and buying land.

Aside from the reality of small, rural towns being drained of resources and infrastructure, young farmers also face the challenge of obtaining the necessary credit, capital, equipment and — of course — land needed to start up a farm of their very own.

And young adults aren’t lining up for a profession that traditionally promises back-breaking labor, long hours,, little pay, limited social interaction, with limited value or prestige attached to it.

 

40 year-old Jeremy Foust understands this dilemma more than most. He has run a small goat farm in Eatonville, Wash. for the past five years.

Jeremy Foust (left), Left Foot Farm owner and, Jen Germain (right) pet some goats. Left Foot Farm is home to four different breeds of goats: Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, LaMancha, and Alpine.

“The older generations want to retire and their kids don’t want to take over and they’re getting bought out... And so the challenge is, how do we make a living by doing this?”

Foust is standing in his goat pasture covered in sweat from the summer heat. His farm, Left Foot Farm, produces raw goat’s milk, along with chicken and duck eggs.

He is milking 48 goats — proudly donning nametags — who, in typical goat-fashion, swarm us, exuding charm and curiosity. It’s easy to fall in love with these hilarious creatures, even as they try to eat your clothes. This place feels as far away from a factory farm as one can get.

Part of the farm’s charm comes from the fact that it was never meant to be a big operation. When Foust first started out, he was simply looking to escape the day-to-day grind of the office.

“I thought I was just going to be a hobby farmer at first,” says Foust, “but I had a business background and I thought, we can’t just be milking goats for milking goats sake.”

A new farmer himself, Foust has a vested interest in helping to launch young people into farming. Left Foot Farm typically has anywhere from six to 10 interns at a time. Interns volunteer their time and work on the farm in exchange for room and board. Most of Foust’s interns come through WWOOF USA (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), an organization that connects people to educational opportunities on farms.

In addition to the affordable farm help the interns provide, Foust says that teaching about his non-traditional techniques is his favorite part of farming.

“There’s the ability to really answer questions and not be so secretive and hidden about what you do… we’re not a secret society of farmers. We’re out here, we exist. We should open up to the community,” says Foust.

We’re not a secret society of farmers. We’re out here, we exist. We should open up to the community.

Foust admits he’s doesn’t have all the answers, but he doesn’t see that as a bad thing. If anything, collaboration and communication promotes more learning.

Laura has been an intern at Left Foot Farm for 7 months. During her time on the farm, the 25-year-old from Simi Valley, Calif. has learned everything from feeding and milking to processing and selling the milk at local farmers markets and stores.

 Left Foot Farm sells their goat milk and eggs at Seattle farmers markets every weekend.

“I feel like with everyone trusting us with individual tasks, it puts a lot of responsibility on us and we care a lot more. And that's been great. I love it.”

Laura says she hopes to have her own farm someday.

“My dream for a long time has been to have my own land, get off the grid,” says Laura. “Farming is hard work but it’s so rewarding. Watching the animals’ faces light up or watching the garden grow… it’s brought me a lot of peace of mind.”

Intern Kayleigh bottles milk with Spark Public’s Jen Germain. Every batch of milk is meticulously labeled in case of a recall. Thankfully, they’ve never had one.

29-year-old Kayleigh came to Left Foot Farm from St. Louis, Mo. as a WWOOFer. Initially, she says, she didn’t have much of an appetite for farming, but saw an opportunity to travel and see the Pacific NorthWest.

“Seeing farming back home, it was something I would never be interested in. It was was dirty, it was disorganized. It just seemed like everything was a machine and they didn’t care about the animals.”

But experience at Left Foot Farm changed all that. So much so that she ended up returning for a second stay. She’s been at the farm since April.

“Here, [the animals] all have their own collars and nametags. You get to know them and you love them and they all have their own personalities,” says Kayleigh. “So much care and work goes into it, but what you get out of it is so much more than just milk.” 

So much care and work goes into it, but what you get out of it is so much more than just milk.

While not every intern who spends time on the farm ends up starting their own farm, Foust says that’s not his ultimate goal.

“Even if folks just develop an awareness of how hard it is to produce food and also the differences of how food is produced...that would be a great success. You have to open up your farm to folks. You have to let people touch and feel things… you have to be present in people’s lives or you can just disappear.”



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Jen Germain

Jen Germain is a producer with Spark Public. Jen is a graduate of the Film and Video Program at (the former) Seattle Central Community College, as well as a graduate of the Communications Program at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, CO. She completed an internship with Filmateria Studios and worked as a videographer with Pixel Dust Weddings before commencing working as a freelance production crew member and producer.

Fun fact: Her favorite TV show is Gilmore Girls, and she binge-watches the entire series at least twice a year.

More stories by Jen Germain

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