This project grew out of the question “So, this young farmers movement, how do you know it exists?”
Empirically, we’ve all seen the many many rosy-cheeked babies and young families at farming conferences, we all know that many of our college friends are farming, and that city gardening and Michael Pollan reading are at an all time high. But the American psyche, the American media, and the American political system needs compelling statistics, not just compelling stories. Or anyway so we’ve been told.
The USDA agricultural census is another critical place to report on your experience as a young or beginning farmer, and we urge you to click over there and add your name to the contact list for the next census.
The information from that census is used by researchers, foundations, advocates and policy-makers to shape the rules of agriculture, the state programs, the grants, the research- basically the whole support network.
Historically there has been an undercount of young farmers, small farmers, women farmers, latino farmers and new immigrants. The census people are trying hard, in their dorky pamphlet distributing way, to fix those problems, but we can be pro-active registrants by simply visiting their site, and signing up to get the census in the mail. Be counted!
Firstly, it allows us to know your names and locations across the country, to have a head-count of soil-fertility activists and a database for information sharing.
Second, it shows the public how many of us there are, and allows restauranteurs, natural food stores and committed eaters to reach out to young farmers in their local communities.
Third, the data that you enter in the survey gives us the capacity to predict the economic development potential of new farmers entering a community. We serve the country food, but we also preserve the countryside, provide good healthy jobs, bring an infusion of business into the local agricultural economy, and enhance our watershed with conservation practices. The questions about seed saving, water conservation practices, CSA management etc also provide us with the numbers to show young farmer’s contributions to regional food security and the biological integrity of our stewardship.
The strategic plan for Serve Your Country Food, calls for us to release data from the survey starting as early as January 2009.
That way, the future young president of America, can hear directly from the future young farmers of America. The question becomes.. How can we shift the economic climate, the political climate and the land-use climate for the benefit of local agriculture and its practitioners? Can we shift the focus of our subsidy system away from commodity over-abundance and towards regional self-reliance, local food access, small farm capitalization, and sustainable ag. research? Could we, perhaps, ask for policy that reflects the reality of diabetes, sprawl, rural poverty and crooked planning boards?
Many young farmers are still landless nomads working for a few months or years either as apprentices, seasonal farm-workers, tenants or land stewards. Usually this ‘journeyman’ period provides the skillset and management experience that beginning farmers need to start their own operations. The nomad feature allows such farmers to map their movements around the country and watch an animation of their perambulations. Taken in sum, the combined animation of hundreds of apprentices will dance across the map like some kind of crazy homeless honeybee dance- a great kinetic diorama of the ‘farmers in waiting’ – critical reminder that land ownership must become accessible to new farmers.
This site is still in development, and the survey is just the beginning of Serve Your Country Food. If you have some insight about how we might further enhance the site’s functionality, or want to collaborate in organizing young-farmer oriented programming at conferences or agricultural trade shows around the country, or want to join the web-design team in some capacity. Please be in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, bring on the constructive criticism!
The data you enter will be deployed by Serve Your Country food to demonstrate the fierce commitment of young farmers to their soil health, community health, and national food security. These data will help us prove to the public, and to the president how valuable and laudable is the producer, how praise-worthy!
Once you fill in the survey we’ll be able to release reports that say .. 1/3 of our 5,000 surveyed young farmers report that they had to ‘borrow, beg or steal’ the land that the cultivate. That 1/8th of respondants studied environmental science at the college level. That 2/3 of current farm operators started with an apprenticeship.
We’ll also use it to generate suggestions of how that president, and that congress over there in Washington might better provide a hospitable environment for new entrants into agriculture while also preserving the existing agricultural economy from financial ruin and creeping transgenic monocultures.
We seek to promote lively+ resilient farming communities. Use those big boxes for descriptive explanations of your obstacles. Type type type, its can be therapeutic.
One major obstacle for the American public psyche is the clutter on the side of the highway loudly proclaiming its inevitibility. We are hemmed in by loud-mouthed con-men hawking burgers and burritos. Oh, also the highway sans bike-path—that is another problem.
So, you’ve filled out the survey, and you ticked the box that makes your mini-profile available to the press. Great! We added that function because we got so many calls from journalists looking for great young farmers to talk to. Now, hopefully, they’ll just get in touch with you directly.
There are some things to keep in mind when you are talking to the press.
1. Speak slowly and clearly
2. Don’t gossip, gripe or undermine your local allies (duh)
3. Think hard about the 3 main points you want to get across
If you are inviting investment, expansion or partnership use the opportunity that the microphone provides you. If you can, make the story move forward—Promote, don’t gloat.
“We are thrilled to be farming here in Tucson and want to expand our sales to some of the fancy restaurants. We are so thankful to our customers for our success thus far”
“The area where we farm was once rat-infested and run down, now 3 of our neighbors have installed edible gardens and our volunteership program is up to 34 members with 65 active composters. We are thankful to city hall for their support and look forward to the new pilot project they are planning in the municipal park.”
“Its been difficult for us to raise the cash to afford our small farm. We didn’t want to go into debt to buy land and were privileged with an education that allowed us to save money in other professions. It was hard at first, working two jobs, but we’re financially solvent now after three years” ( or whatever is the truth, don’t lie!)
Basically, be transparent about the obstacles, but don’t whine. Be up front about the work. And be prepared for a surge in interest after the article runs—try to use that interest to promote an event or work-day.
4. If a reporter calls, make yourself accessible with email and cell phone. Ask them for their dead-line and be descriptive about photo opportunities on your farm.
Our motive with the press-release is to help journalists gain access to your story. They are out hunting for juicy photo-ops, back-roads rock stars and real stories about real Americans working to heal this land. Your story, your struggle and the drama of your greenhouse collapse, these are compelling features for local reporters. Ultimately, the success of young farmer relies to a certain extent on market demand, if we can compellingly articulate the benefits of supporting local ag, and particularly next-generation ag—so much the better for farmers market sales and CSA subscriptions. Cultivate a relationship with your local media as well as community and they will help turn folks out for your harvest festival and raise money when your barn collapses*. And if the demand swells, so to can the supply, and the opportunities for other young farmers to get growing. * Joel Salatin says so in his classic book, You Can Farm.
Why are we doing this project? What is our intention? Why young farmers?
We are working on the social promotion of young farmers because we mostly are young farmers on the Greenhorns team. We recognize that we are the inheritors of a system in crisis.
here! download our 30-page zine Greenhorns guide for beginning farmers
A project of the greenhorns