How Reigniting the Passion for American Farming Can Yield Great Opportunity

By Alyce Lomax Markets Fool.com

Farmers have the biggest passion. Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power

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Photo courtesy of Growing Power.

In America, hard work and perseverance are considered to be among the greatest virtues. And when it comes to symbolizing that concept -- harvesting the fruits of one's labor as well as showing real grit and determination -- it's hard to beat an American icon: the farmer.

The farmer is awake before the sun rises and as the rooster crows, is in sync with the natural world, and functions as a steward of the land. He or she also fulfills one of the most basic and essential of human needs: feeding people.

Few would reject the idea of the farmer as an example of noble, hard work as well as the supplier of nutritious food for communities. Yet in modern America, the landscape has shifted away from this highly beneficial profession.

Farming makes up the very roots of America, but it probably goes without saying that today far fewer American farmers are on the scene. The American Farm Bureau Federation says only 2% of folks in the U.S. cite farming as their occupation.

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Furthermore, according to the USDA Census of Agriculture, from 2007 to 2012, the number of principal farm operators in the U.S. fell 4.3% to 2.1 million. Advancing age in the sector is also a factor to bear in mind; the census also reported that in 2012, the average U.S. farmer was close to 60 years old.

This is a sad state of affairs, and even though many of us might not even realize it, there's more need for passionate, accessible farmers in this country than we might even imagine.

Take inner cities, where there's far more concrete than crops. Local communities are often left with only cheap fast food and lack affordable fresh options to choose from. Health problems and food insecurity can be particularly rampant, matched with limited job opportunities and few paths for young people other than the streets.

That's quite a collection of societal challenges, but for our Foolanthropy 2016 holiday drive, we've targeted an organization that's offering solutions, igniting the passion for farming, sustainable food production, and healthy living among young people and beyond.

Enter Growing Power, a non-profit farming operation and land trust. It awakens the passion for farming by providing farm training (including highly innovative urban farming methods), career skills, jobs with living wages, and affordable fresh produce to some of the neediest communities. That's a heck of a lot of impact.

Get caught up with our introduction to Growing Power here, and don't forget to check our direct fundraising site, give.fool.com. Or, read on for a little more insight into Growing Power and its possibilities.

Lasting solutions start locally

Will Allen says the only way to end poverty is on a local level, which helps explain why you may not have heard about his organization until now. It's been focused in a few areas, with direct, grassroots efforts to make real, life-altering differences to individuals in those communities.

The organization is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but slowly but surely, its roots have been spreading. It also has a Chicago, Illinois location, where it focuses on providing kids with career paths instead of turning to the streets. Despite the still-small footprint, all told, Growing Power has about 300 acres of urban farms and 150 greenhouses.

For those who might consider Growing Power too hyper local, though, note that its reach extends further afield than you might think.

For example, Growing Power conducts tours of its facilities, not just for kids and adults looking for a fun activity; its role as a "living museum" and "idea factory" also appeals to farmers, urban planners, and other professionals from across the country.

And again, consider the innovative farming methods for the modern age. In just one example, Growing Power provides training in types of farming that can flourish even within the confines and challenges of urban settings, such as vertical farming. That's why touring its facilities and taking in its lessons and training can be an inspiring destination for kids and professionals alike.

Growing Power has worked with partners across the country to establish satellite training centers, the largest of which are located in Ohio, New Jersey, Georgia, Michigan, Arkansas, and New Hampshire. It has also reached out to communities in Ukraine, Haiti, and Africa.

Allen clearly has big dreams, and giving the next generation the spark of passion for sustainable farming as a skill to be proud of, a livelihood, and a healthy contribution to local communities is a lofty one. It goes without saying that with our help, Growing Power can sow the seeds for far more growth beyond its current geographic reach.

Helping Growing Power fund its ongoing programs and expansion, as well as raise awareness about the organization and its cause, will help Will Allen and his team inspire more and more young people to embrace farming, appreciate the natural world, and collect valuable job skills -- not least of which would be those that exemplify the farmer, hard work and perseverance, which are among the most useful skills for all of us.

Visit give.fool.com to contribute to the Growing Power cause this holiday season. Please remember that even relatively small amounts can make a real difference to this organization. For example, Growing Power informed us that a $10 donation could pay for small tools that are designed for use in cities. Just $50 can fund an aquaponics setup in a school classroom, which helps educate and enchant kids regarding sustainable farming methods.

As of this writing, due to the generosity of folks like you, we have passed the $40,000 milestone in our fundraising efforts for Growing Power. Before the campaign ends in January, we'd love to hit our $60,000 goal (at which The Motley Fool will kick in an additional $2,500) -- or even hopefully surpass our $100,000 super stretch goal.

Let's put our resources together to grow the love of farming and help Growing Power continue to nurture success stories -- and provide healthy opportunities for more people than ever before.

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