(NBC News) –The face of farming is changing, as an increasing number of millennials are becoming farmers.
They’re interested in organic food, and sustainable farming practices and their choices are making an impact on big food companies.
Millennials are flocking to the farm and Chris Hay is one of them with his 150-acre farm.
But the 34-year-old wasn’t born on a farm.
He studied philosophy in college and up until seven years ago, Hay was living a city life, working a desk job.
Chris Hay, owner, say Hay Farms said, “It didn’t jibe with a lot of the goals that I had for myself professionally. I enjoyed working with food, and all those things kind of just meshed into why not try farming?”
That led him to a job on a farm and now he’s the owner of “say Hay Farms” in rural Yolo County, California.
He’s not alone.
According to the USDA’s most recent census of farmers from 2012, the number of principal farmers ages 25 to 34 increased 2.2 percent from five years before, while some of the older age brackets saw double digit declines.
A new survey by the National Young Farmer Coalition also finds that the upcoming generation of farmers is demographically different from previous generations.
They’re likely to be college-educated, not grow up in farm families, use sustainable practices, acquire things like farm insurance and produce organic food.
Among those recruiting millennial foodies into farming, Kimbal Musk, brother of tech billionaire Elon Musk.
Kimbal Musk, Founder, Square Roots said, “If you look at just five years ago, farming was considered you know, this is what your grandparents did. And over the past few years, there’s been this extraordinary demand and desire to be a farmer amongst the younger generation.”
He’s disrupting the food chain with a collection of locally-sourced restaurants and an urban farm accelerator called square roots…they received 11-hundred applications from millennials to launch their own farming startups.
Musk said, “It comes from the desire to be part of the food revolution, to grow real food for their community, it’s a wonderful thing that’s going on and it’s super exciting.”
Feasting on organic food, millennials’ focus on organic foods is having a real impact on business too.
Organic food sales in the U.S. totaled a record $43 billion dollars in 2016, more than doubling since 2007.
The biggest group driving those sales is millennial parents, according to the Organic Trade Association.
And in a note this year about the packaged food industry, Goldman Sachs wrote “millennial consumers should drive the entirety of the industry’s growth in the next decade.”
For Chris Hay, using sustainable practices and producing organic food isn’t a business decision, it’s just the right thing to do.
Hay said, “We’re out here to help move the ball forward. And it’s a whole system of change that needs to take place.”