At our annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, we present the Honorary Farmer of the Year award. This recognition is given to a Niman Ranch customer – whether it be a meat distributor, grocer or restaurant – that shows outstanding commitment to the Niman Ranch farming community. They go above and beyond being a customer to embody the true meaning of partnership in their actions towards promoting sustainable, humane agriculture.
This year, we honored a long-time friend of ours, Marczyk Fine Foods in Denver, Colorado. Owners Pete, Barbara and Paul Marczyk have increased their commitment to our Next Generation Scholarship Fund through private dinners at their home, having customers “round up” at the register, selling special items at their deli, and our favorite event of the year: Marczyk’s Burger Night. The Fund is set up to give our farmers’ children a better chance of returning to the land by curbing school loan debt. This ultimately preserves traditional farming practices and promotes the advancement of the next generation of farmers.
For the last eight years, our grocer and meat distributor customers across the country have raised money for the Niman Ranch Next Generation Scholarship Fund. Awards are given at our annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner, which celebrates our family farmers with a delicious meal prepared by top chefs from across the country.
It all started eight years ago at the 9th annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner. The first Next Generation Scholarship was given to a few children of our farmers with the intent of helping them pay for college so they could return to the farm. In its first year, the scholarship totaled $6,000.
According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, farmers over the age of 65 outnumber farmers under the age of 35 by a ratio of 6-to-1. While the average age of a Niman Ranch farmer is 48 years old, the average age in America sits at 58 years. What opportunities exist to grow the number of young farmers nationally?
Because of a host of barriers not faced by previous generations, many young farmers are unable to start their own farm or take over the family business. We’ve seen issues range from skyrocketing land prices and student loan debt to difficulty taking out reasonable loans or finding reliable work. Inheriting land isn’t enough to allow for a farm to thrive financially these days, and with more than one child in many farm families, most of those who vie to take over have to find their own land regardless.
Over the last 30 years, the average age of farmers has steadily increased to 58-years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade, leaving a large gap for the next generation to fill. This makes it incredibly important that we work to persuade our children and grandchildren not to leave the family farm. This is why we created the Next Generation Scholarship Fund, which awards over 20 students from farm families every year with funds to help pay for college.
The term “Farm to Table” was created in response to the growing desire of people to know where their food comes from and how it is prepared. Farm to table is more than just taking produce from a farm and putting it on your table, however; it’s fundamentally about how the produce is raised, how the farmer is compensated and who creates the final product that ends up on your plate.
But what of the term “Table to Farm?” What can both chefs and diners do to give back to the farmers who work so hard to feed us year round, and how can the farmer identify with them? Whether their farm is local to its customers or located in a rural community in the heart of this country, all farmers deserve recognition for their desire to master humanity’s most necessary craft.
Since 2007, we have partnered with several businesses in the food industry to raise money for the Next Generation Scholarship Fund, a fund that helps pay for the higher education of students from Niman Ranch family farms. This scholarship has awarded over 100 students, the majority seeking degrees in agriculture to return as the next generation on their farm.
One of these award winners is 19-year old Anthony Scheer of the Scheer Family Farm in Iowa. He was given the David Serfling Memorial Scholarship in 2014, which is awarded to the top applicant each year.
Marczyk Fine Foods in Denver, CO has hosted Burger Night from Memorial Day to Labor Day since they opened back in 2002. This is their signature event, and it’s been said that they only shut down if the rain is hard enough to put out the coals. Both their locations offer Niman Ranch beef patties with outdoor seating – the perfect way to spend a summer evening.
Pete Marczyk, founder and owner, hosted their first Burger Night for charity three years ago. The event was so successful, he felt the need to look for more meaningful opportunities. When asked why they chose the Next Generation Scholarship Fund, Pete reflected: “As we were planning for the future and how we could work more closely with our partners, it occurred to us that the Next Generation Scholarship Fund was the charity we felt most connected to, and the one we wanted to participate in most meaningfully as a staff.”
On August 28th, Chef Tyson Grant of the Parkshore Grill and Chef Jason Cline of The Birchwood joined culinary forces to raise money for the Next Generation Scholarship Fund in St. Petersburg, Florida. Tyson, who first came up with the concept, hosts several fundraisers at the Parkshore Grill each the year. “As chefs, we really love doing these kinds of events,” says Tyson. “When we can successfully put something together and raise money at the same time, it’s fun for us.”
The Parkshore Grill was the first Niman Ranch-branded restaurant in the Tampa area, starting back in 2007. With Jason now serving our products just blocks away, Tyson felt it was only natural to work together. He even was the one to suggest we invite Jason as a featured chef to the Farmer Appreciation Dinner, where Tyson himself was featured just a few years back. Jason was ultimately chosen this year, and he did a spectacular job in Iowa highlighting Niman Ranch pork with his gorgonzola & candied bacon-stuffed meatloaf entrée.
This fund is designed to raise awareness to the loss of traditional farming and ranching practices, and to ultimately help maintain this way of life. Our goal is to help give the children and family members of Niman Ranch farmers or other family farmers a better opportunity to return to the farm by helping pay for some of their education.