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The Role Mentors Play In Attracting Young People To Farming

Village Farmstead
Sara Krohn and her partner Sam Odin stand behind their booth at a local farmers market.

Dave Kozlowski owns and operates Pinehold Gardens in Oak Creek with his wife, Sandy Raduenz. When they were first getting started, fellow farmers were a big help with the steep learning curve.

Now, the mentee is becoming the mentor.

Sara Krohn switched careers just around a year ago to start a farm full-time with her partner, Sam Odin. They both had almost ten years of community gardening and hobby farming and now that experience is being put to use at Village Farmstead in Oak Creek. The Farmstead is a market farm where Krohn and Odin grow organic produce for direct sales to customers, living on shared land. Odin’s sister Alli will also join their forces this upcoming season, bringing organic and biodynamic farming experience.

At first, Krohn admits that she didn't know anything about farming or business.

"[While in college] I thought about all of these scholars and authors I was reading about and farmers, and I just thought this was such a wholesome way to spend my life," she says.

"I feel like it might be hard to ask a young person like myself who had a 9 to 5, who had a 401K, benefits, weekends off to exchange that for a life of farming," Krohn admits, "[but] I think that the risk of not having benefits or dental insurance - those things are OK for me to exchange for different things that I value such as being my own boss, working with the sunlight hours, and moving my body the way it intended to be moved."

Credit Audrey Nowakowski
Dave Kozlowski of Pinehold Gardens and Sara Krohn of Village Farmstead.

Whether you go into farming in your twenties, fourties, or fifties, Kozlowski says, you have to have been inherently predisposed to the idea of the lifestyle.

"You have to have the mindset and the philosophy to want to do this, and it doesn't matter whether you're growing organic produce or you want to do diary cows, or corn and soybean — farming is farming," he says.

Kozlowski says every season, he learns something new. "I get the same exact thrill as though it was the first time when I see the plants all in a row, the weeds kept under control, everything is looking healthy —yeah, it just keeps coming back."

Kozlowski advice for Krohn: Do not "lose the feeling because that's what's important."

Only one season in and preparing to embark on her second at the Farmstead, Krohn says it has been a challenging adjustment.

"I'm finding that it's hard to take your whole life and turn it upside down to grow this produce so that someone can have a beet at the end of the day," she says.

Krohn says if you are someone who is interested in farming, simply try growing your own food on a smaller scale to see if it is something you would want to pursue. And just as Kozlowski did when he started, and Krohn after him, she says: Go to a farmer and "just ask. Farmers are really nice people and they'll usually always talk to you."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
David (Dave) Kozlowski, along with his wife Sandy Raduenz, owns and operates Pinehold Gardens, an organic produce farm in Oak Creek, Wis. The pair left their full-time office careers in their 40’s to pursue farming. They have offered a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program since 1994 and became owners of Pinehold in 2004. The farm also serves the community through restaurants and farm markets.