The origin story of the Dream Harvest Farming Co. sounds straight out of Silicon Valley.
College friends Zain Shauk and Harmeet Singh, while on a 2014 trip to Las Vegas, became absorbed in a discussion of hydroponic farming, which involves growing plants without soil. They talked about it nonstop, convinced that it was the future of agriculture, breaking only to watch a Britney Spears concert.
Within six months, both had quit their jobs, moved to a house in the Houston suburbs and started sketching out lettuce-growing methods on the dining-room table. They built a prototype in a garage and raised money from friends and family to launch their startup. By 2016, Mr. Shauk, a former journalist, and Mr. Singh, a chemical engineer, were selling their greens to local restaurants. They added grocery-store sales in 2017. Today they have closed $4 million in funding, run a team of 32 people, and operate 7,500 square feet of warehouse space.
“There was a steep learning curve, but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing today,” says Mr. Shauk, 36 years old, who lives in Houston and is the company’s CEO. “As a journalist, I often felt like I was on the sidelines as an observer, but as a farmer, I make such a direct impact on our food supply and people’s lives.”
More young Americans are joining the agriculture sector and changing what it means to work as a farmer. Only 8% of farm producers were under 35 in the 2017 USDA census, the most recent available, compared with 34% over 65. Though the workforce skews much older—their average age was 57.5 in 2017—youth representation is growing. From 2012 to 2017, the number of producers under age 35 grew 11% to about 285,000, while producers age 35-64 had shrunk by 2%. The median annual wage for farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers was about $68,000 in May 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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