The right to bear farms: Severine von Tscharner Fleming, young-farmers champion

severine-2Editor’s note: Severine von Tscharner Fleming first inspired me back in 2006, when she was just an undergraduate activist at Berkeley. Since then, this wild-haired, scabby-shinned force of nature has been featured in the New York Times several times and elsewhere for her work trying to grow a new crop of farmers for America.

Here are some of the many projects Sev and her able volunteer interns are nurturing:

Now, Severine and her cohorts have themselves begun farming in the Hudson River Valley. They’ve dug 1.2 acres by hand, planted 3,328 marjoram plants and 16 kinds of lettuce, and are raising 2 piglets, 23 chicks, 28 laying hens, and 4 Muscovy ducks. They’ve also started a farm blog. I asked Sev’s permission to reprint this rally cry she emailed to friends recently.


By Severine von Tscharner Fleming

Almost two years after its founding in a basement in Berkeley, California, The Greenhorns has matured from an idea for a recruitment film into a potent, and slightly famous national community of young farmers.

We are now happily rooted on my first commercial farm, Smithereen, on rented land in the Hudson Valley of New York. In the autumn of 2007 we officially began seeking out mentors and characters for a film, traveling the country with a confident intuitive sense of an emerging movement of young farmers, a series of borrowed cameras and generous cinematographers. On the road for these two years, we happily conclude it to be so. Scrappy, resourceful, adaptive young Americans have brought the products and the spirit of this movement into the sun, and we are proud to be the reporters of its successes and a hub for a much-needed cultural conversation. About production. About direct action. About biomass. About retrofit.

This is America, and it takes all kinds. All over the country we have met enterprising, hopeful greenhorns: descendents of family dairies, punky inner-city gardeners, homesteaders, radical Christians, anarcho-activists, ex-suburbanites, graduates with biological science degrees, ex-teachers, ex-poets, ex-cowboys. The sons of traditional farmers, the daughters of migrant farm workers, the accidental agriculturalists, and the deliberate career switchers all mark our maps. In foothills, warehouses, back valleys, and vacant lots they are popping up as we reclaim human spaces in the broad lazerland of monoculture that has engulfed rural America.

This Obama spring finds the young farmers as unlikely poster children of a new zeitgeist. Aptly so. Ranging around the country in my filmmaking, I have met hundreds of new and aspiring young farmers. I have found them a powerful, proud and wily sub-culture. I have found them to be charismatic icons of change, patriots of place, sensible and sensitive stewards of land and resources. They are the creators of a retrofit future, and just in time. We now have the political change. We have reawakened our democratic will and discovered a dialation in the realms of possibility. We must take advantage of the moment. Yes! We are farming! We are hopeful.

The produce of local agriculture is in hot demand with the most loyal of customers. CSAs all have waiting lists, and healthy mothers determined to have healthy babies are fiercely devoted to nutrition and the farmers who provide it. Popular literature and sensibility is gravitating to our message of health for our selves, our soil, our social fabric. I have learned that it is possible for us to succeed, to prosper; meanwhile the market continues to grow!

Farming in America is simultaneously a privilege and a service. And no, it is not easy. Young farmers in America face tremendous structural obstacles. They seek access to land, capital, education, and business training. They seek cultural support and open-minded consumers. They need reasonable paths to acquiring mechanical equipment and other infrastructures of medium-scale agriculture. These are missing components of our culture and our laws, and they are deeply missed by young farmers who are forced to improvise and invent new institutions to serve their new needs and new marketplace.

The movement is for real. Its practitioners are skilled, savvy, and ferocious. They are assets to their community and guarantors of our future. They are shovel-ready, shovel-sharpened. Relishers of flavor, recipients of the generosity of photosynthesis. Hellbent on recovering from the age of convenience. They are young farmers with young muscles wisely applying their lives to the problems at hand. But it takes the applied passions of thousands, hundreds of thousands of courageous actions to repair a nation. It will take a radical shift in the structure of the Farm Bill, in the literacy of eaters, in the shape of commerce and land management. It will take the support of you all.

If you are thinking of farming, do!

If you cannot join us, connect with your stomachs, and please buy and savor and share our products!

If your kid wants to farm, tell them it’s OK! Help them open a savings account or lend start-up capital to a young farmer in your town.

If you have it, please donate! and support our efforts to finish the film, continue the oxygenation, update the websites, launch the National Young Farmers Coalition, and pay our rent.

Please collaborate. Please facilitate. Please donate. Please join us or rally on your own to ensure the success of America’s young farmers.

Editor, again: Anyone know the Macarthur Fellows nominating committee? I can think of few more worthy recipients for one of those $500,000 “genius” grants. But while we’re waiting for them to anoint her, the Greenhorns need some dough. Desperately. Every week of editing costs $5,000. They spend $60 per month xeroxing (“a new xerox would cost $350 that we don’t have,” says Sev). The Greenhorns’ current 14-minute short was paid for with their security deposit on the old office. Donate to the Greenhorns’ efforts via the “donation silo” on the Greenhorns website.

3 Responsesto “The right to bear farms: Severine von Tscharner Fleming, young-farmers champion”

  1. Sev, well said! You are an inspiration to us all. My favorite lines:  “Recipients of the generosity of photosynthesis.  Hellbent on recovering from the age of convenience.”  I needed this heartfelt rally after a fitful night of sleep listening to hail pelt my young tomatoes. 

  2. They might qualify for a free color printer from Xerox. I got one for our farm about two(?) years ago. Excellent for order forms, brochures, fliers, etc. It even prints double-sided. See