The New Farmers: Meet the youthful future of American agriculture – By Lauren Markham
Published in the November/December 2014 issue of Orion magazine
SPRING IS THE TIME of year when Deena Miller, owner and operator of Sweet Roots Farm in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, thinks of quitting. Her body hurts, money is tight, and just enough of her organic, love-sown seeds have sprouted from the ground that she can see her failures: wimpy leaves, frost-stunted sprouts, roots chewed through by beetles. It’s the fourth season that thirty-year-old Miller and her partner, Robbie Martin, have farmed three and a half acres on a slight slope in the fertile Grass Valley, north of Sacramento. And yet despite the challenges, each year has proven better than the last as they learn the particulars of the region’s microclimates and their farm’s soil—what grows best where, just how long to wait to plant the heat-loving tomatoes and cucumbers.
“This time of year is always really tough, but it gets easier,” Miller says, adjusting her cap. She sports a tool belt and well-padded iPhone, allowing her to simultaneously work the fields, answer e-mail, and receive business calls. “I’ve been weeding carrots for the last hour, so I’m a little grumpy,” she says with a smile. She snaps off a lingering asparagus stalk—its brethren were harvested last week and sold to the local co-op—and hands it to me. We chomp our snack, and I admire the farm. To my untrained eye, it looks handsome and bountiful with its rows of green cascading down the hill, not a disappointment in sight.