Sylvia Burgos Toftness, on her Wisconsin farm, where she learned how to ready 1,200-pound bales of hay for her cattles' winter feeding. (Photo courtesy Sylvia Burgos Toftness)
The influx of the Hispanic population in the U.S. has been called "the sleeping giant." Will this giant wake up and make its mark in agriculture? Or will the farmer of the future be a woman? An organic producer?
Harvest’s Nebraska reporter, Clay Masters, is working on a documentary about the farmer of the future and we’re seeking help from our sources in the Harvest Network.
Sylvia Burgos Toftness answered our call and she has a great story of her own. Raised in the Bronx, this second-generation Puerto Rican-American moved to the Midwest 30 years ago as a TV reporter and ultimately landed in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
The green bug first bit in the 1980s when she began doing public relations for organic growers and by the early 1990s, she worked at the Midwest Organic Alliance. She and her husband began looking for farmland in Wisconsin in 2007-2008.
But even after all those years of advocacy work for sustainable agriculture, Syliva didn’t call herself a farmer until she was attending a grazing school seminar and she received a text from her husband that read: “U R farmer.”
“It was December 2009 and (we) had just closed on our 72-acre farm – rocky rolling hills just right for grazing beef. Our first five cows arrived on Jan. 3, 2010,” she wrote. “My husband likes to joke that I read ‘Little House on the Prairie’ as a kid and ended up raising beef cattle 40 years later.”
Sylvia and her husband now run their grass-fed beef operation in Clear Lake, Wisc., about 90 minutes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. She still has a second job in the Twin Cities and is co-host of a weekly show called Deep Roots Radio, which features farmers, ranchers, chefs, film makers and authors, and she blogs at bronxtobarn.com.
Hispanics certainly have a chance as production agriculture, Sylvia said, and there are many in her area. But maybe the farmer of the future won’t own the land he or she cultivates, she said.
“Land ownership is a very large issue, and a huge obstacle for many beginning farmers everywhere in the U.S., “ she said. “Do new farmers have to own the land they cultivate? No. Leasing land is a common practice, and a practical alternative that makes lots of economic sense.”
What do you think? Help us report this story by clicking here and giving us your experience and insight.