At 24-years-old, Justin Walker is one of the youngest farm owners in the country, and he’s persevered despite huge odds. When his grandfather passed away four years ago, he inherited the family farm, and with it came some unexpected challenges, as well as new opportunities. Now he’s working to save his family’s farm.
We’ve enjoyed getting to know Justin over the years at RAFI and have always been impressed with his forward-thinking, entrepreneurial approach to farming. In 2014, Justin was awarded a grant from our Agricultural Reinvestment Fund to start an innovative mobile market to serve his local community in and around Caswell County, North Carolina. He established the market last year and is in the process of jumpstarting the business for this season.
Watch the video to learn more about Justin’s story and click here to check out his new crowdfunding campaign for the farm.
In 2012, when Justin was just 20-years-old, his grandfather, John Walker, passed away, and he soon found himself in charge of managing the farm. While he inherited a great deal of land and equipment along with the farm, a huge advantage for a young farmer, he also discovered that his grandfather had amassed a significant amount of debt on the farm. The family was shocked twice, first by their loss and then by the financial peril they found themselves in after dealing with funeral costs and creditors. In particular, they soon realized that the previous debts owed to the Farm Service Agency (of the USDA) could put the farm at risk of foreclosure.
Justin quickly set about doing everything he could to save the farm, gradually reinventing it acre-by-acre by changing production methods and focusing on growing specialty vegetable crops to serve local markets, whereas his grandfather had focused on conventional crops such as corn, wheat, and tobacco. Justin believes that he has found a new niche for the farm, and he hopes to have the farm certified organic one day.
On a personal note, I have to say that Justin is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. Farming is challenging enough. That he continues to operate a farm while working two jobs, attending college, and helping take care of his grandmother is just mind-boggling. On top of that, he picks up gigs working on other people’s farms, sometimes works his friend’s stand at the farmers’ market, and plays guitar and bass in the church band alongside backing up other groups. I’ve known him for a couple of years now, and I still don’t understand how he gets it all done!
It just goes to show you that young farmers can be a tremendous asset to their communities and to our country. We need to support young farmers however we can both for the sake of their future and ours.