Adrian Percy

Foodies & Farmies: Let’s Celebrate Both!

Looking back, some might think my food choices were less than exciting. While my parents made sure our meals were well-balanced and nutritious, my childhood dining experience doesn’t compare to the sophisticated palates of today’s foodies and their desire for unique dining experiences. I love the fact that a new generation has taken such a keen interest in food, but must admit, I’m even more excited about their growing interest in producing the foods we enjoy.

For lack of a better term, let’s call them “farmies” – millennials who look at the way we grow our food and think about how we can do it more sustainably. Over the past year, it’s been my great pleasure to interact with many young people who are interested in working in agriculture. And it’s impossible not to be inspired by their passion for learning and for the novel insights they share about farming practices.

From the Youth Ag Summit in Brussels, to the AgVocacy Forum in Anaheim, to Seeds&Chips in Milan and the EAT Food Forum in Stockholm, I have been blown away by the knowledge, curiosity, ambition and poise shown by our next generation of potential agrarians. It’s comforting to know that they understand the importance of global food security and the necessity of bringing consumers into the conversation. But don’t take my word for it – instead, take a look at a few of the recent comments collected from some of the millennials and Gen Zers I’ve met:

  • “I wish consumers knew how complex an industry agriculture is. There isn’t just one solution – there is so many pieces to the puzzle.” – Anna Gomes, Ag Student, 2017 Youth Ag-Summit Delegate

  • “Our first instinct may be to throw science at them, but young people want to connect on a values basis, they want to connect to something emotionally.” – Emily Buck, Agriculture Markets Producer – RFD-TV, 2017 Youth Ag-Summit Delegate

  • “We need to find ways to make farming cool and more attractive, and to transform the figure of farmers. Farming should be seen as a noble profession on a higher level.” – Maurizio Chiurazzi, Youth Ag Summit 2017 Delegate, pursuing master's degree from Wageningen University

  • “The sooner we can get agriculture in school curriculums, the better. When I tell the kids, ‘look, someone your age could grow the first plant on Mars,’ then you can’t hear a thing. A pen could drop. You know that you’ve inspired at least one person there.” – Connor Kiselchuk, 2017 Jeff Schell Fellow, Controlled Environment Technician, NASA

  • “There are so many people working on problems that relate to climate change, sustainability, and food security – making sure everyone has the nutritious nourishment they need. That broader purpose unites us.” – Zachary Fritze, CEO, Cultovo
Adrian Percy
Adrian Percy
Adrian Percy,
Global Head of Research and Development for Crop Science, a Division of Bayer
From left: Connor Kiselchuk, Shafinaz Hossain, Maurizio Chiurazzi, Katelyn Mann, Adrian Percy
From left: Connor Kiselchuk, Shafinaz Hossain, Maurizio Chiurazzi, Katelyn Mann, Adrian Percy
(From left: Connor Kiselchuk, Shafinaz Hossain, Maurizio Chiurazzi, Katelyn Mann, Adrian Percy) Young leaders who are passionate about agriculture gathered at the EAT Forum in Stockholm for an engaged talk on how to feed our growing planet.

Trust in Food Facebook Live: January 23, 2018
Youth Ag Summit delegate Emily Buck participates in a Facebook Live conversation with Adrian Percy, Crop Science division of Bayer, at the 2018 Trust in Food Symposium in Chicago.

Like their foodie peers who enjoy experimenting with different foods prepared in different ways, farmies have no problem challenging the status quo when it comes to crop production. That’s critical if we are to prepare for the serious issues facing agriculture, because we’ll need a fresh perspective on what it means to farm sustainably, especially in an era that values purpose over pragmatism. Farmies understand something that’s eluded us for far too long: They know that science alone won’t win over critics of modern agriculture unless it tied to a moral purpose that sufficiently motivates them.

Perhaps you’re thinking the young men and women that Bayer has sponsored are the exception, not the rule. I agree that those selected to participate in events like the Youth Ag Summit are truly exceptional, but never underestimate the power of a few talented individuals to help change public perceptions. Moreover, the depth of young talent who are leaning toward a career in agriculture may be deeper than you think.

We’ve all read about the aging of the farm population, a trend that has been going on for decades. But that could be changing: Recent reports suggest that many millennials are swapping their desk for a farm. You might be surprised to learn that for only the second time in the last century, the number of American farmers less than 35 years old increased, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest census. And many of them are coming from a non-agricultural background. Whether or not this represents a new trend is yet to be determined, but it’s unquestionably a positive sign.

Farming is moving into uncharted waters of amazing potential. Innovations in plant breeding, soil health and digitalization are likely to appeal to those most willing to embrace new technological marvels. For millennials and member of Gen Z who have grown up accustomed to harnessing the power that exists in their cell phones, it seems only natural that they are suitably poised to help usher in this new age of agriculture.

Whether a young person is focused on consumption (foodie) or production (farmie), as long as we’re talking about food and how to make it better, then I think that’s a reason for everyone to celebrate.

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