Farmers Markets Are for Everyone: Support the Next Generation of Farmers

December 8, 2022

The Balakian family at the Foodwise Classroom

Small family farms depend on informed and engaged eaters like you showing up at the farmers market every week. As we look to the future, it’s more important than ever to grow our market community by educating youth, so that family farms not only survive but thrive for years to come. When you donate to Foodwise, you help the next generation of farmers commit to sustainable farming that nourishes all people, local economies, and the living earth. 

This month, Foodwise is celebrating the wisdom of community members who are contributing to this shared vision. Today, meet Amber Balakian, a fourth-generation farmer at Balakian Farms. Despite the many challenges that small farms face, Amber chose to continue her family’s farming legacy because she knows how essential culturally diverse, organic farms are for healthy communities and a healthy planet. But not every kid grows up with an understanding of the importance to sustainable agriculture like Amber did—which is where education comes in. 

In a speech at Foodwise Sunday Supper, Amber shared what your support means to her and her family, and why it is critical to invest in Foodwise education programs, so that community-based, climate-wise farms like hers flourish into the future.

My name is Amber Balakian, and I am a fourth-generation organic farmer with Balakian Farms. My great-grandfather began farming when he moved to Reedley, California, during the Armenian genocide. My grandfather, John Balakian, purchased land five minutes from where he grew up, and my family continues farming that same ranch today. I am here tonight with my mother, Ginger. 

I know what some of you are thinking—I don’t look like your typical farmer. I am female, I am African American, and I am Armenian, an anomaly in the ag industry. Both myself and my family have faced challenges because we didn’t fit the mold. However, our unique background has allowed us to connect with customers in a different way. It has made us resilient, much like the produce we grow.  

Increasing equity and diversity in the food system makes all of us stronger. Smaller, family farms have their own unique set of practices, improving both the quality and variety of food. Our farm once grew over 80 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and we are just one small farm! Small farms care for and retain their workers, giving both stability and job security to entire families. Diversity is the answer to growth and progress in the food system. 

Food has always been an important part of my life. I have so many fond childhood memories from growing up on my family’s farm, but the ones that stand out to me the most are going to the farmers markets. They always felt like an adventure: getting up early in the morning, setting up our stand, greeting customers and fellow farmers, and driving home knowing that all of the hard work was worth it. 

When I went away to college, I wanted to leave farming in the past. I thought my days on the ranch would remain distant recollections of a prior time in my life. But eventually I was struck by the realization of that famous saying “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Through a series of life decisions, I ended up coming back to help manage my family’s farm. However, many who grow up farming leave and never come back. 

I choose to continue my family’s farming legacy because it is something that I am passionate about, and it truly is a part of who I am as a person. As the next generation, I want to honor my family’s past, but also look ahead to tomorrow’s future. 

But this is not an easy task because farming is hard, not just for my family, but for our employees, many of whom work seven days a week in triple-digit heat. Although water is the most publicized issue related to farming, there are many challenges farmers are currently facing that just don’t get talked about: rising costs met with lower margins, higher capital requirements, and labor shortages, to name a few. Today, there are less and less younger generations continuing to farm or even showing interest in where their food comes from. 

That is why it is so important to invest in education efforts, like those offered through Foodwise. They help grow the next generation of farmers market supporters, ensuring that people who live in cities continue to champion local farms like ours. Without new leadership and support in the ag industry, small, sustainable farms will eventually disappear. 

I realize my story is not the norm. Most young people today don’t grow up with a close connection to the land like I did or know where their food comes from. Many choose other career paths because of the challenges that small farmers face today. This is the reality. Sadly, it paints a bleak picture of the future ahead. 

But it doesn’t have to. I see a different future. The future I see is one in which the next generation of farmers, like myself, continue to build and grow our farming practices, one where the community comes together to support, learn, and share in that harvest. 

I see a future in which farms like mine thrive, with your help and the help of organizations like Foodwise, educating our youth, sustaining the farmers markets, and growing its future supporters. 

Like small seeds that yield an abundant harvest, supporting Foodwise is an investment in the next generation of farmers and consumers and the future of food. Without this help and support, the future I envision will be nearly impossible to achieve. 

There is an old Armenian proverb that says “All riches come from the earth.” I ask that you help this remain true for many generations to come. Thank you.  

Support the Next Generation of Family Farms

Amber and her family are depending on community members like you, who support farmers markets and education programs that help grow our community. Ensure that the next generation of farmers can thrive by donating to Foodwise today.

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