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BIG SUR, Calif. — Among the sleek guests who meditate and do Downward Facing Dog here at the Esalen Institute, the farmers appeared to be out of place. They wore baggy jeans, suspenders and work boots and had long ago let their hair go gray.
For nearly a week, two dozen organic farmers from the United States and Canada shared decades’ worth of stories, secrets and anxieties, and during breaks they shared the clothing-optional baths.
The agrarian elders, as they were called, were invited to Esalen because the organizers of the event wanted to document what these rock stars of the sustainable food movement knew and to discuss an overriding concern: How will they be able to retire and how will they pass their knowledge to the next generation?
Michael Ableman, a farmer and one of the event’s organizers, said the concerns were part of a much larger issue, a “national emergency,” in his words. Farmers are aging. The average age of the American farmer is 57, and the fastest-growing age group for farmers is 65 and over, according to the Census Bureau.
During their meetings, some of the farmers worried that their children would not want to continue their businesses and that they might have to sell their homes and land to retire.