A highlight of my summer was the occasional e-mail I received from a friend in New Hampshire who has returned to our small town to start her own farm. Her parents, my family's closest friends, are organic farmers, so it's not exactly a new science for her. But it was a long, long struggle to buy land; thanks to urbanites' lust for third homes, the going rate was $10,000 an acre when she started her search. For over a year, she and her husband sent out letters asking if anyone was looking to sell and willing to undercut the market in order to keep it in community hands. And then one day, a retiring couple responded. This summer, she left her office job in Maine and moved back home.
Judging from her effusive e-mails, the 40 acres they were able to buy are now being transformed into a magical homestead. Trees have come down, a driveway built, a house beginning to take shape. There are organic veggies on the horizon, livestock, perhaps a pottery studio. With all the time I spend thinking about the more depressing aspects of our food system -- I mean, let's admit it, I don't generally cover the cheeriest of topics for this blog -- her updates positively made me glow.
And that's how I felt again the other day as I looked through the blog of The Greenhorns, a film project about young farmers (the trailer of which you can watch here). We've written about our love for the film's fearless leader, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, before, but I have to say it again here: That lady and her team are absolute stars. Their blog, The Irresistible Fleet of Bicycles, is becoming not just a space to celebrate young farmers around the country, but to make them.
It's no secret that the farming sector is in crisis. With the average age of a farmer in the U.S. nearing 60, and with skyrocketing land prices shutting young people out, things are looking pretty dire. But as The Greenhorns crew has documented, young folks are finding ways to get back to the land. As the up-and-coming center of the young-farmer universe, their blog is becoming something of an ad hoc bulletin board for farmers looking for young people interested in leasing, buying, or share-cropping their land. Case in point, from just a few days ago: "Seeking caretaker of 50+ acres which is in fruit trees and has a vegetable garden that needs attention.... This is a great opportunity for a farmer who is looking to grow and bring in enough income to sustain and grow over time." !!! (I'm kind of speechless at how cool this is.)
I'm excited to see what Sev and her crew find out about the innovative, creative land-tenure and training arrangements that are cropping up between young and aging farmers. And if you're a young farmer, or if you aspire to be one, there may still be space to register for The Greenhorn's Rabbit Roast and Encampment taking place this weekend in New York's Hudson River Valley. See the blog for more info on how to register.
Finally, because this is a post written by yours truly, it wouldn't be complete without some mention of farm policy. I'll keep it short, though, and just point out that there are some great programs and policy work taking place to support beginning farmers across the U.S., led by Minnesota's Land Stewardship Project and Nebraska's Center for Rural Affairs. Thanks to these and other groups in the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program received a funding boost in the Farm Bill this year. Let's keep the support -- and the inter-generational collaboration -- coming.