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Farmers gone wild



A lively young group of farmers and food lovers is showing a little skin and getting tattoos dirty in order to help a new organization bear fruit.

DYNAMIC DUO :  Heather and Eric Popp raise veggies, turkeys, chickens, pigs, and mayhem. Check them out in the New Farmers of the Central Coast’s 2013 calendar. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW FARMERS OF THE CENTRAL COAST
  • DYNAMIC DUO : Heather and Eric Popp raise veggies, turkeys, chickens, pigs, and mayhem. Check them out in the New Farmers of the Central Coast’s 2013 calendar.

Meet the New Farmers of the Central Coast, presenting a 2013 calendar featuring 12 glossy photos of San Luis Obispo County’s finest sharing their love and dedication to a new era of farming by showing a little skin, while still staying somewhat family friendly with a little help from carefully placed hay, squash, and cornstalks. The fundraiser is one the group’s early endeavors as it works to support young people entering farming and ranching professions by providing educational materials and creating a network where people can link up land and opportunities.

The New Farmers of the Central Coast is affiliated with National Young Farmers Coalition, a nationwide network facing the uphill battle of getting young people and fresh ideas into an agricultural economy often dominated by older thinking and heavily industrial methods.

“There is a huge gap in education between the generation that was farming and the generation that is farming now,” said Melissa Hanson, one of the founding members of the group. “Our country is not going to be able to feed ourselves if we don’t make farming accessible to younger people.”

According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, only about one percent of Americans are farming—and only a handful are young folks. In 2002, only three percent of people farming were younger than 35, but by 2010 that had doubled to six percent. For young people starting out, the biggest obstacles are often capital and knowledge. Land is expensive these days—especially in California—as is equipment, and for farmers wanting to get outside the box and welcome in a new paradigm in agriculture, it can sometimes be a bit of an experiment with a lot of risks.

“Really that’s indicative of small farmers; you got to take big risks,” said Hanson, 25, who’s among a growing new generation of farmers getting their hands dirty. She moved here from North Carolina with her husband, who got a job with Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit that installs solar panels for people with low incomes. Here, Hanson met other people pursuing a sort of dual purpose of growing food for a living while influencing the larger scheme by keeping eyes on measures of sustainability and social and economic justice.

“I think what’s new about this generation of farmers is that we aren’t just farming to make money, we also have a sense of moral and ethical responsibility,” Hanson said. “A lot of that is tied to a kind of sense of patriotism and wanting to feed our country.”

The network has been slowly growing, and the green thumbs have become a bit contagious at times. Ask Kasey Jones, who spearheaded the calendar’s production. Jones and her family run a salon in Templeton, called The 9’s, and the adjacent Dark Nectar, a little coffee shop that finds unique, quality coffee beans and roasts them in house.

“Agriculture is so important in California, and I feel like most people don’t really get that,” Jones said. “When I saw what they were doing, I hadn’t ever really seen a garden work, and I was very impressed. It was basically like watching them make magic happen.”

The New Farmers of 2013 calendar is available through Or come have a delicious cup of coffee and pick one up at The 9’s Salon at 420 Main St. in Templeton. For more information, check out the New Farmers of the Central Coast website at Is using sex appeal in line with the forward-thinking spirit of these young people? Hanson and her cohorts think so.

“You’re not just buying a calendar with pretty girls in it,” Hanson said. “You’re supporting an up-and-coming group that really needs your help.”

Fast facts

The San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party will hold an Inaugural Ball from 6 to 9 p.m. on Jan. 21, at the Graduate on 990 Industrial Way in SLO. The Washington D.C. Inaugural Ball will be broadcast on large screen TVs; there will also be free appetizers and desserts. Tickets cost $10 in advance, $5 for students, and $15 at the door. Tickets are available at For more information, call 546.8499 or visit

Intern Jono Kincade compiled this week’s Strokes & Plugs. Send your nonprofit and business news to [email protected].

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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