Thomas Parsons is a young farmer advocating for a sustainable food system worldwide from his family’s ranch in southeastern Kansas.
On Parsons Ranch, Parsons combines his parents’ sustainability values with his positive outlook for global agriculture. “It is important to farm sustainably so that the upcoming generations can continue to farm and provide food for the world,” Parsons tells Food Tank. “If we do not take care of the land that we manage, it will not have any useful value to future generations.”
Parsons’s parents purchased the land in 1986, built a sustainable outdoor hog operation, and started raising cattle on pasture land. “I am the second generation on the operation,” says Parsons, “but my mom Teresa, my dad David, and I are all involved in making our farm be sustainable.”
The Parsons raise their hogs in large outdoor lots with deep-bedded sheds year-round. On the ranch, the family uses sustainable farming practices like rotational cattle grazing, using manure to improve soil health and their pastures, and composting waste from hay feeding and hog bedding. And while the Parsons enjoy farming as a family and working with the livestock, being able to improve the land and make the operation more sustainable keeps them on the land year after year. “Being able to work on your own place to better it for future generations and being able to provide food for the world is very rewarding,” Parsons explains to Food Tank.
For four years, the Parsons have sold their hogs to Niman Ranch, a network of over 740 farming families raising their hogs sustainably and humanely. “Our operation was raising hogs exactly the way Niman had wanted and we knew how much the company valued sustainability and farm profitability. The fact that they pay farmers for what they raise is terrific,” says Parsons. Niman Ranch also awards young farmers scholarships through the Next Generation Scholarship Foundation. Parsons has earned several scholarships, including one in 2019.
“Providing scholarships to students who are interested in helping the world become a more sustainable place, no matter what field of study, is a good way to invest in the future of our planet,” says Parsons, who notes that education plays an important role in creating a healthier future food system. Through educational opportunities, young people can learn about sustainable agriculture and their curiosities about the food system may grow. “People need to understand how their food is produced and where it originates from,” Parsons tells Food Tank.
Parsons notes that farms are dramatically changing—nationwide, the average age of farmers rises, smaller farms shrink, and larger operations continue to grow—but getting involved in farming requires the expertise of farmers carrying on generations of farming tradition. “The average age of the farmer is nearly 60 years,” says Parsons. “Farmers are willing to help the younger people who want to farm and teach them what they’ve learned throughout the years.”
“We know there is no room for error or cutting corners. Doing what is right for the future generations in order to allow them to have the opportunity to return to the family farm and continue farming is very important,” shared Parsons.
Farmer Friday is a monthly series featuring livestock farmers selected by Niman Ranch, a network of more than 740 family farmers raising livestock in a traditional, humane, and sustainable way. With more than 40 years as an industry leader, Niman Ranch works with small, independent family farmers and ranchers across the United States to encourage better food system practices. All Niman Ranch pork, beef, lamb, and prepared products are certified under the Certified Humane® program and available nationwide at both food service and retail locations.