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The Young-Farmers Movement

Planting the Seed

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Faith Gilbert with Swiss Chard.
  • Turnquist Photography
  • Faith Gilbert with Swiss Chard.

Eight Days a Week
Finding more to do isn't a concern for farmers on a day-to-day basis, though. In addition to founding Letterbox and managing its one-acre garden, Gilbert is also the office manager for The Greenhorns and the project lead and founder of the Cooperative Farming Info Project, a resource for people interested in a multi-owner farm business. The jack-of-all-trades lifestyle is a common trope for young people starting up farms. In addition to being the main farm worker, Anthony Mecca, 30, juggles a number of other responsibilities to keep the business afloat. "I'm doing a lot more management and coordinating of people—making sure people are happy and everyone knows what their job is," he says. Off the field, Mecca creates seasonal plans, orders seeds, coordinates CSA memberships, writes newsletters, and handles financing and taxes. "There's [also] a lot of educational things if you have an apprentice," says Mecca.

Jennifer Carson and Jon Ronsani of Lineage Farm in Claverack.
  • Turnquist Photography
  • Jennifer Carson and Jon Ronsani of Lineage Farm in Claverack.

Jen Carson and Jon Ronsani at Lineage deliver to their CSA members. "We harvest on Tuesday and Friday mornings generally, and deliver vegetables Tuesday afternoon and Saturday morning," Carson says. "The other days are full of farmwork: greenhouse work, getting starts ready for transplanting, hulling, cultivating, getting beds ready for planting. We generally take a break for lunch at the hottest part of the day—sometimes that includes a nap—and then head back out to work again until sometime in the evening." According to Gilbert, starting a small farm is unlike any other entrepreneurial enterprise. "With any other small business, you're working toward regular vacations, continual profit, a second home," Gilbert says. "With farmwork, you're investing so much time, energy, and capital for the privilege of continuing to work." Fleming adds, "Starting a small business in America is hard enough. With farming, you're starting a small business that has a lot of risk factors: high labor costs, perishable products, a lot of capital investment." Land access and lack of health care are other high risks in farming, especially since it's a job where the main tool is your body. "Another risk is presented by the weather," Fleming adds. "This is the seventh year in a row that the weather has been crazy." You can't just be a good farmer to be a successful farmer, it turns out. "You have to be a good businessperson," Fleming says. "You have to be a little bit of a ninja."

Anthony Mecca of Great Song Farm in Milan.
  • Turnquist Photography
  • Anthony Mecca of Great Song Farm in Milan.

This Land Is Your Land
Luckily, there are more and more resources cropping up for young farmers looking to pursue this challenging career path. In addition to media and information-based resources, like The Greenhorns, there are more practical programs that help young farmers get started. Anthony Mecca found the 88 acres of land that he leases through the Columbia Land Conservancy's Farmer Landowner Match Program. "It's like a dating service," says Mecca. "They have a directory of farmers looking to lease or rent land. Then there's a directory that lists landowners looking for someone to farm their land." Carson and Ronsani, who are currently leasing seven acres on Ronsani's cousin's land, are actively searching for a more permanent situation, both through the Columbia Land Conservancy and Northeast Farm Access, which enables investors to purchase farms to lease or later resell to farmers. The Hudson Valley is also filled with apprenticeships and educational opportunities, such as Glynwood's CRAFT program (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training), which offers farm training in cooperation with a number of local farms; whole-farm planning courses and workshops through Hawthorne Valley's Farm Beginnings; and Farm Catskills's Growing New Farmers program, which offers both a paid farm internship and a new-farmer incubator.

TURNQUIST PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Turnquist Photography

"Agriculture is fundamental for human identity," says Gilbert of Letterbox, adding that there are a lot of seemingly insurmountable challenges in the world right now, much of it relating to the industrialized food system. "Farming sits nicely as a small, specific, direct solution to a lot of these simultaneous challenges at a time when it's not easy to see positive solutions for the future. Farming emerges as one thing you can do right now that is a clear investment in humanity. If you believe in human civilization, you have to believe in food. Food is representative of both our relationship with the world and our relationship with each other. Taking on food production is taking on the sustaining of human culture."

Resources
Great Song Farm
The Greenhorns
Letterbox Farm Collective
Lineage Farm
National Young Farmers Coalition

Amanda Beckley and Faith Gilbert of Letterbox Farm Collective in Hudson.
  • Turnquist Photography
  • Amanda Beckley and Faith Gilbert of Letterbox Farm Collective in Hudson.

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