How Millennials are changing the face of farming
Farming in the United States is changing.
The USDA says mid-size and commercial farms, run by older farmers, are disappearing. Replacing them are smaller farms run by millennial farmers with new ideas.
"Farming was the farthest thing from my mind at the time,” said Travis Marak, a millennial diary farmer who runs Marak Dairy Farm in Meeker, on land that’s been in his family since 1912. “In the sixties my dad, grandfather, and uncle started milking cows by hand and selling the cream locally."
In 1972, they built a commercial dairy and milked up to 50 cows. But eventually age caught up with them.
“My dad was about the go out of business, basically retire,” Marak said. “I told him I wanted to try this.”
At the time, Marak was working in a metro store that sold local produce. Knowing his millennial friends prefer organic, locally grown produce he saw a need for a new product.
“I noticed in Oklahoma there wasn't a market for local milk,” Marak said. “You could buy local beef or local tomatoes or local eggs, but there wasn't anyone producing milk.”
It was a moment that changed the direction of his life. Megan Sisco, a millennial urban farmer, also saw the need and became involved in something new. It’s called Community Supported Agriculture.
“Instead of a customer going to a farmers market to purchase their produce every week, they buy it all upfront at the beginning of the season,” Sisco said.
Sisco and her partner, Jacob Sanders, are following the millennial trend of hyper-local farming on four plots of land in the Paseo district. Customers of “Circle Culture Farms” pay a flat fee upfront for access to fresh produce.
“Three to seven items a week. They come to our house every Sunday,” Sisco said. “We’re doing what we call produce parties.”
Sisco says the upfront money allows them to buy seeds and soil supplies, and gives her the opportunity to stay at home with her daughter Tulsi. Because she farms organically, pesticides are out. To keep the pests away, she uses companion plants, and praying mantis and lady bug eggs.
“They just come in their little eggs and they hatch,” Sisco said. “You just release them in the garden and they do great.”
Back on the dairy farm, Marak’s new direction in life meant a new direction for the farm that had been selling milk on the open market for years.
“We were getting paid very little for the milk, really below production cost,” Marak said. “So we really couldn’t earn a living at the commodity level for a farm of our size.”
Marak decided to take his product right to the consumer.
“I knew that the milk my dad has produced his entire life is way better than anything else you could buy in a store,” he said.
Marak says it’s good because the milk is from his small herd of cows living the good life eating grass and hay in an open pasture. Twice a day the cows know to come to the barn for milking.
“So I'll bring one bunch in, we'll clean them and milk them, then I'll bring another bunch in and we'll do the same thing,” he said while showing off the milking area of his barn.
From there the milk is transferred to a cooling container, then it’s pasteurized and bottled. Marak’s mother, Robbie, is involved in the bottling process and helps the farm produce up to 500 gallons a week. The milk is sold to restaurants and coffee shops in the metro.
If it sounds like a lot of work, it is.
“I do the cow milking, the poop scraping, the deliveries, some of the bottling, and some of the pasteurizing,” Marak said.
Like other millennial farmers, Marak is using his college degree. He’s also in charge of marketing, collecting money, accounting, and payroll.
“It's a pretty good life,” he said. “It's long hours, but I wouldn't want to do anything else right now.”