Danny Kinnear, aged 25, has chosen to do the unthinkable – become a farmer. He is going against a powerful global trend. Fewer and fewer young people are going into agriculture today, even when they come from farming families. The average age of farmers around the world is over 50; well below 10% of farmers are under the age of 35. Committing to a life of hard physical labour and low financial returns isn’t appealing to many, especially in Australia where Danny comes from. “There’s a systemic view that farming is not a worthwhile or important career, which is disheartening,” he says. “Often farmers don’t want their kids to follow in their footsteps because farming industrially is so heavily reliant on expensive infrastructure and large bank loans; farming is a financially stressful occupation.”
Leaving behind a BA in English and Psychology, Danny wanted to do something different with his life, something meaningful to him. Australia, where he was born and raised, is one of the countries that will be most heavily impacted by climate change, despite denials from its prime minister, Tony Abbott. Danny realises that how we eat is integrally related to how we live on the earth, and at the moment we are moving quickly towards an unsustainable future. He wants to be part of a sea change in how we consume food, and for him that means farming. “I chose to farm because it’s hugely important in the way we deal with climate change. I want to be actively involved in this struggle.” It’s this determined idealism by individuals such as Danny that will get us through the 21st century.
Danny is not entirely new to agriculture. His grandmother had a small 20-acre farm about an hour away from Melbourne and he was 12 when his family moved there. He never felt like a true country boy, though, as he was born and mostly raised in the city. His parents started Organic Wholefoods – an ethical and organic supermarket in Melbourne that is now something of an institution – so he was steeped in the ethics of sustainable food as he grew up.
Thanks to his family Danny has advantages over other new farmers. His father is leasing him the five acres he farms in Blampied, Victoria, and he has access to an established market through his parents’ business. It has allowed him to farm without the crippling debt that he might have carried if he had not had the family support – this is one of the key advantages of family farming. Danny is aiming to buy the farm outright in 10 years’ time, carrying on the generational exchange of land that was the backbone of agriculture until industrialisation began to undercut family farms.
Danny wants to connect growing, cooking and eating in an experience that makes people think about where their food comes from and how good it can be. He wants “eating to live” to transform into “living to eat,” and for food to tell a story about how fundamental farming is in this transition. The farmer as chef is not a familiar role, but it is one that many new farmers are adopting. Danny’s Farm is set up to both produce and process its yield. On his five acres of land he grows vegetables and keeps chickens, and aims to have an on-site restaurant one day. In the meantime, he is serving up an excellent breakfast wrap, made with eggs and rocket from his farm and a neighbour’s free-range bacon, alongside his fresh produce at a local market.
This kind of diversification is important in developing a robust financial model – an issue facing farmers today more than ever. Danny wants to encourage more eaters of fresh, local and sustainable food, as this means a bigger market for food grown to higher environmental standards, which means greater support for local economies. Serving up his produce as a meal is a great way to start a conversation with his customers about what goes into it and how it’s made. Those are the conversations that will make people think more deeply about the food they are consuming. It also intimately connects cooking to growing, which is key to healthy eating in a world dominated by fast and processed food. For Danny this is critical: it fosters a more integral relationship between farmer and consumer. “I believe the richer and deeper the connection between consumers and the food they eat, the richer and deeper their connection to me as a farmer.” This connection is the catalyst that will change the way we eat.
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