The Vanishing Farmer

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The US Farm Crisis

Americans rarely give much thought to where their food comes from. They should. Rapidly expanding cities mean the US loses two acres of fertile farmland every two minutes. The dwindling number of US farmers – now at 1.5 million – is even more concerning. At present the average American farmer is over 60 – only 5% of them are under 45.

The US government has been desperately trying to recruit more formers since 1992, when they first introduced a special loan program for beginning farmers. Owing to poor uptake, the 2008 Farm Bill greatly expanded the loan program, as well as introducing educational assistance and special training programs, commodities payments, conservation payments and crop insurance subsidies to new farmers. These programs were expanded even further in 2010, when US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced his goal of recruiting 100,000 new farmers in five years.

Corporate Welfare for Factory Farms

Although the number of loans to beginning farmers increased from 9,000 in 2008 to more than 15,000 in 2012, there’s growing skepticism about other aspects of the program, which clearly benefit large corporate players –  factory farms and the private insurance companies that sell crop insurance – more than small farmers. Last week, GMO and pesticide manufacturer Monsanto bought into the crop insurance racket when they acquired ClimateCorp, a San Francisco based company that employs complex weather data to set prices for its crop insurance policies. At the same time property development and speculation, which poses the most immediate threat to productive farmland, remains unaddressed.

Young Farmers are Pro-Organic and Anti-GMO

According to Reuters, the organic and healthy food movements have also been instrumental in inspiring urban youth in returning to the land, where they are supported by a number of national and state nonprofit organizations.

Greenhorns, a national membership organization of 6,000+, is one of the largest and most active. Founded in 2007, the group works to promote, recruit and support young US farmers by putting on events and workshops, networking, resource sharing, and the production of traditional and new media: radio, documentary film, blog, a book of essays, guidebooks, web-based tools. Their primary goals are to “retrofit” the corporate food system by building a thriving agricultural economy, based on solid business skills and sustainable farm practices.

Their website offers a phenomenal range of resources, with links to

  • Jobs
  • Agricultural training courses
  • Mentoring opportunities
  • Low cost food processing facilities
  • Core consumer groups wishing to start Community Supported Agriculture schemes*
  • Market managers seeking new producers
  • Marketing advice/assistance
  • Land for sale and lease
  • Legal services
  • Grants
  • Crowdfunding and community based fundraising opportunities
  • Political action groups

I was especially intrigued by the Greenhorns new documentary and their 2013 New Farmers Almanac. The latter is a new twist on the classic Old Farmers Almanac. Designed to appeal to healthy food advocates as well as farmers of all ages, it presents a collection of essays about adjusting to large scale urbanization and the mega population boom, as well as reclaiming a landscape dominated by monoculture, soil depletion. Available in paperback for $20 from AK Press

Here’s the trailer to the documentary, which can be purchased for $10 from their website:

*In Community Supported Agriculture schemes (CSAs) consumers subsidize a local farm by purchasing a subscription to weekly deliveries of fresh vegetables and/or fruit.

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