Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Washington Post: Growing number of young adults leaving desk jobs to farm

Photos by Salt Water New England
Those signing up for CSAs and Farm Shares now, when the money is the most appreciated, may find the following story interesting:
[A] growing movement of highly educated, ex-urban, first-time farmers... are capitalizing on booming consumer demand for local and sustainable foods and, experts say, could have a broad impact on the food system. 
For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census of Agriculture.  
- The Washington Post <https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/a-growing-number-of-young-americans-are-leaving-desk-jobs-to-farm/2017/11/23/e3c018ae-c64e-11e7-afe9-4f60b5a6c4a0_story.html>




























































24 comments:

  1. they are probably fed up with the uncertainties and squalor of of urban life. think Thoreau! ij

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  3. I wonder how long they will last? I grew up on a dairy,beef operation and dad made my brother and I attend university. The economics alone is scary. One poor year and it may take years to recover.

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  4. I only know two families in the "market garden" ( as we Brits call it .... ) business , and it's success from year to year is very hit and miss depending on weather/bugs/consumer interest . It really is necessary to retail it yourself too , or the profits soon go south on your efforts .
    I thought my 25 years in retail pharmacy was very mixed , but I wouldn't enter primary production for a living .
    Many thanks for this industry review and photos Muffy !

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  5. I give them a lot of credit. Farming is hard work and not always economically sound. But kudos to them, and I wish them the best. We need more young people like this.

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    1. I'm a millennial who lives in an urban environment and I see a lot of hobby farming among my generation, or larger scale farmers with day jobs. Several of my husband's coworkers still work with their siblings to run the family farm and they receive floating unpaid time off at planting and harvest season from the company (a small business owned by a family - he "gets it" so he makes this possible for them). During the busy farm season they farm for two or three weeks straight and then go back to work when it's over and farm evenings and weekends and split the work with their siblings. I know several couples who have started small scale farms where one spouse also works off the farm/on the farm and the other works full time on the farm to make sure that they have some sort of income.

      When I hear people whining about useless millennials I wish you could come see my friends and coworkers. we all work hard and we find ways to make these things work despite an ever-changing economic and cultural landscape.

      - ER

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    2. Hi ER: I work with people from multiple generational cohorts, including millennials, and my experience is consistent with what you say -- the millennials I know work as hard as anyone.

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  6. I know quite a few of the younger, what I would call "boutique", farmers in New England, NY, and PA, as well as some of their farmers market organizations. In New England particularly, the young farmers tend to be trustafarians, or at least have sufficient family resources to enable them to take the risks while affording a basic living. In NY and PA there are more unresourced youngsters who are willing to endure a more frugal and unadorned lifestyle. In addition, New England has a much greater density of target market, affluent customers who can provide a steady market without a great deal of sensitivity to prices necessary to keep their venture going another year or two.

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    1. Very good points brought up by annonymous above (Jan 10, 8:02pm). I live in PA. I see two types of young-ish farmers, the Amish and/or Meonnite and the trustafarian, of sorts.

      Our local young (non Amish/Mennonite) farmers are living on farms owned by the family going back three and four generations and have the benefit of a debt-free farm, a college education and a spouse/partner of similar mindset and an outside job that provides health insurance (mostly teachers or state workers).

      My mother’s side of the family were farmers and I solidly support locally raised food but it’s a lifestyle that comes with a certain amount of affluence, both economic and intellectual.

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  7. I hope that wherever possible that consumers support independent farmers, young and old alike.

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  8. In the UK, there is currently quite a boom in knowing where your food has been grown and supporting local producers. Farmers markets and food festivals are popping up everywhere. Unfortunately the capitalists are also seeing the pound signs and thinking "let's eke out every last penny while the going is good". The minute capitalism takes over, the whole scene is over.

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  9. What a great article. A positive alternative to a life style and manner of earning a living. I hope others will consider and succeed in this almost forgotten field. A very hard occupation but a lot to be said for
    working with nature as opposed to computers and all that entails.

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  10. I miss seeing farms like this up the road! They are all housing developments now. This is such hard physical labor, I give them a lot of credit! Hope their backs last!

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  11. Its not for the faint hearted or those wanting quick returns, that's for sure. Agriculture is under threat in many Western countries and we need to support our farmers as much as we can. Here in Britain, far too much of the food stuffs on the supermarket shelves are imported. I can't think of a scarier scenario than being dependent on outside sources for essentials such as food and energy.

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    1. Britain has long been dependent on imported food--including tea. But all farmers are dependent on customers, which are a fickle group of people. The proper management of a nation's food supply is a job for government and that is not something currently in favor in the United States at the moment. Yet it always has been since the days of seven fat years and seven lean years.

      I've spent my time doing farm work and that was a tobacco farm in Massachusetts, of all places. No business gives a quick return.

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    2. I think our government does manage the food supply through its policies and regulations. This has been going on since the 1970s, maybe earlier. Personally, I don't think the government has done a good job, as the management has led to and supports big agribusiness. So, I'm pleasantly surprised to read this. Who cares if they are "trustafarmers?" Just like in anything else that requires skill in overcoming significant challenges, many may not make it. But some will. Support those folks. They are doing something important.

      Aiken

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    3. Our govt. has always had some form of management in terms of farming via production and supply chain regulations/policies - but I agree. Starting around the early 1970's, govt. policies under Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz changed from supporting independent, smaller/family conglomerate farmers, to supporting big agribusiness farms. These policies have unfortunately almost killed sustainable, local and independent farming in the U.S., but it's very heartening to see that CSAs and farm shares are helping to reinvigorate the kind of locally supported, independent/community owned farming that Henry Wallace and Henry Beston believed in. The fact that these CSAs and farm shares are attempting to thrive while many of the policies from the Earl Butz era are still in place to favor monopolistic industrial farms is in itself extremely impressive.

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    4. On a personal note, my girlfriend and I signed up for an annual CSA last year with a family owned farm 20 miles outside of our home in Boston, and we couldn't be happier. The price wasn't that much more than shopping at a supermarket in Boston every week, and we've found that we waste less food through the CSA. We have also been living in much greater health as a result of all this fresh, nutrient rich food (I've lost 10 lbs in the last year through only changing my diet to match whatever arrives in my CSA box each week). We have even noticed that now that we are a year into our CSA, we buy less bulk processed food items and less out of season items from the supermarket and have begun to save on annual monthly food costs. By simply adapting to our CSA, we've begun to shop smarter with food, and live more healthily.

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  12. In addition to some of the comments above ("trustafarians"), I also wonder whether some of these millennials working in bucolic small farmm settings realize, for instance, that those adorable little piglets must someday be killed in order to earn their (former) keep? I cannot picture millennials (at least the ones I know) doing that deed.

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    1. As a millennial, I can think of 3 millennials that I'm close enough with to consider as friends, that work on or manage independent farms within 70 miles of Boston, and two of those are primarily meat producers. One of those three could be considered a "trustafarian" (but honestly, let us judge people by their character and not by their bank accounts?). Further information on millennials: only 8% of the active duty military in the U.S. are older than the millennial generation: millennials fight your country. They also are the most actively engaged in community service of all currently living generations. They're librarians, teachers, firefighters and police men and women. I understand that as a massive generation in terms of size, and as the first generation to grow up in the digital age, millennials are quite confusing, but let's not assume they are unwilling to do difficult work.

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  13. About eight years ago, I drove past South Carolina peach trees with beautiful peaches growing on them. Stopped at the grocery store on the way to my house and they had peaches from Mexico. I have nothing against Mexico, nor do I have a particular political agenda, or a nostalgia for the bucolic life. It just doesn't make any sense to me to haul peaches in a thousand miles when you buy them 150 - 200 miles away. Local just makes sense. My grocery store now tells you where the food comes from. It's not boutique, or fashionable. It just common sense.

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  14. In Mississippi, where I am currently visiting and where this SWNE entry sparked long conversations, I hear of a group of small scale organic farmers who have banded together to form a business to supply restaurants. Each farmer in the group agrees to concentrate on growing just one vegetable and when one member faced storm damage, the others assisted in quickly helping with replanting.

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  15. Go, young people, go! There’s just something honest and deeply satisfying about having your hands in good, clean dirt and contributing to all...Good for you!!!

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  16. I noticed a significant number of Jersey cattle in the photographs. This breed is well suited for small farms. Our children showed Jersey cattle in 4-H and FFA. Several of the families that had large dairy farms, populated mostly by Holstein cattle, looked down their noses at the Jerseys. Many of those that are fortunate to still be in business have replaced Holsteins with Jerseys.

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