Fifth/First Generation Farming and a Brief History of the Move to Lettuce

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Nowadays, a ‘generation’ can refer to more than a group of people born between two approximate dates; this is especially true if the object in question is fifty times more likely to be referred to ‘4th gen’ than ‘fourth generation’ (though the phrase ‘next gen’ is also a great signifier). In these cases, the generation gap can be as short as the two months where one tries to figure out how to use the new device or the way it’s different than the last one or, in my case, as long as the two years until a game with the next batch of 150ish Pokémon comes out. While the concept of a next generation or Xth generation may be straight forward, can someone or something be both fifth and first generation? In regards to Jedd Koehn of Coastal Plains Produce, I say yes.

Jedd Koehn grew up on a western Kansas farm that grew organic produce including corn, beans, and sunflowers. His grandfather had worked the farm since the 1940’s, making the move to organic in the 80’s. After going organic, he formed a co-op with other local farmers that became Heartland Mill . Though over 1,000 miles away, Jedd Cohen was able to see things come full circle as he ate bread with his family in a Raleigh bakery. Bread made of grain from the mill his grandfather helped start.

Though he grew up on a farm that had been in his family for generations, Jedd was not always involved in farming. As many of us do (or are still doing), he did other things for a while. But eventually, he decided to return to farming. I asked him about his motivation for returning to farming as a way of life. He wanted to be around his wife and little boy more. He wanted to work alongside his son as he grew up. In the transition from organics in Kansas to hydroponics here in North Carolina, he started on a family farm and ended up starting a farm for his family.

Not only did he start a new farm in a new place with new crops, Jedd is also the first in his family to use hydroponics. Hydroponics and other elements of controlled environment agriculture, well, control the agricultural environment, enabling one to grow produce year round; however, this can’t completely rob the seasons of their influence. Spring and fall are ideal growing seasons for lettuce in a controlled environment, due to balance of light and temperature. This works well since they also happen to be the prime seasons for sales. In spring this is primarily due to spring fitness, while in the fall it’s mostly due to fall holidays. Winter holds the most difficulties for growing lettuce, as if the plants themselves know it’s not the time to grow. Despite providing heat and light and the astronomical cost this entails, the plants still take around eight weeks to grow as opposed to six in summer. The fast growing speeds of the summer come with their own difficulties. The plants quickly bolt, sprouting up from the center and going to seed, causing the plants to become bitter, deformed, and unsalable.

Seasonal difficulties and year round production makes for year round labor. Lots of labor. Koehn says it’s not a bad way to make a living if you don’t mind lots of work; and for Jedd Koehn, it’s work he gets to do with his son. With his young age, Tanner’s work helping Dad probably consists of quality time, learning, and a lot of ‘wanting to help.’ And with that comes the experience of nurturing something to fruition and a sense of pride in a job well done. Whether Tanner decides to farm, do something else, or do something else and then return to his hydroponic roots, he’ll still learn lessons as a sixth/second gen farmer that he can carry through his life and pass on to the next generation.

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