Troxler told students that 83 percent of the state’s farmers are older than 45. “This is an appropriate topic because we don’t have enough young people coming into farming,” he said. “We need the best creative minds in agriculture in order to move forward.”

Troxler told of his own struggles as a young farmer. He first came to North Carolina State University as an engineering student, using the income from 25 acres of tobacco to pay his way through school. He later decided that he wanted to farm full-time. Over the years, his farm grew to 135 acres of tobacco, 40 acres of soybeans and a fruit and vegetable operation.

One of the challenges that young farmers face is finding affordable land to start their operations. Incubator farms like the Lomax farm and the Breeze farm in Orange County offer new farmers the chance to learn on a small scale before taking the leap into buying or leasing land for a larger operation.

In 2000, Elma C. Lomax died and left her farmland to Cabarrus County, with the condition that some of the land be used for passive recreation, such as hiking trails or farming. Seven years later, 200 citizens and county commissioners gathered to develop a plan to sustain the county’s agricultural industry. The incubator farm was one of the group’s recommendations.

The farm first began offering land last summer, and nine farmers leased plots. Before obtaining a land lease, the aspiring farmers take an eight-week course offered by Cooperative Extension. The training program deals with topics ranging from marketing to soil fertility to food safety and control of insects and plant diseases, according to Carl Pless, Extension agriculture agent in Cabarrus.