Hipsters With Dirty Hands: America’s New Farmers

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a feature on a growing trend: the newfound popularity of farming among America's young people. Focused on the young farming community in Oregon, the article points out the connection between 'foodie culture' and the new breed of young, college-educated people who are opting to work hard and get their hands dirty.

Why farming? Well, over the past decade or so, we've seen a rise in the number of public figures who are big promoters of American agriculture, notably including avid avocado farmer Jason Mraz. Farming's public image has been made a lot cooler, too, by music festivals like Farm Aid and Sweetlife. And it's probably got something to do with a general resurgence in folk culture, including music, of course (think of everyone's favorite Edward Sharpe song). Asking the same question actually led Country Living magazine to put together a list of “25 Reasons Country is Chic.”

This trend has been slowly expanding for a number of years, aided by organizations who see it as a move toward a healthier future for America. Programs like WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, have been working to create access to the farming life for young people; the past two years, meanwhile, have seen the rise of the National Young Farmers' Coalition, a network which aims to provide a support infrastructure for this new generation. An organization of young people called The Greenhorns (which is currently producing a documentary of the same name) is looking to “recruit, support and promote young farmers in America.”

And that support is needed. Despite the rise in popularity among young people, the average farmer in the United States is 58 years old. In particular, it's difficult for new farmers to find access to land, information and necessary equipment: frequently coming into the business with little money to begin with, many farmers have a difficult time paying off college loans. On the plus side, the federal government has begun to step in and help. In 2008, the federal Farm Bill included a program for helping new farmers and ranchers get started; last year's version included $18 million in funding for new farmer education.

It's a difficult time to be a farmer in America, for sure. But for Americans who are fond of healthy and local produce, the emergence of this trend is some really great news. If our young farmers can hang on and get financially stable, we'll have fresh, local produce for generations to come.