They Ditched the Office for the Farm. And Stayed.

The origin story of the Dream Harvest Farming Co. sounds straight out of Silicon Valley.

College friends Zain Shauk and Harmeet Singh became absorbed on a 2014 trip to Las Vegas 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 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.

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“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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