So you graduate from college and get psyched up about organic gardening and food justice. You try working on a farm and decide: yes this is for me. You enthusiastically declare to friends and family: I have found my calling, my purpose! I am going to toil in the dirt and grow beautiful, pure food!
You do some research about independent farming and . . . . WHOOA. The reality sinks in. You need serious $ to start a commercially viable farm, even a small one. Land, tools, seed, labor, insurance, and on and on.
On top of all that you have $60,000 in student loans for your lucrative Anthropology degree from an expensive University.
The economics of farming in this country are deeply skewed. Small farms go out of business every day and and it is increasingly difficult for small operations to compete with Agri Giants. As the population of farmers ages, and farms go out of business, we need a new generation of farmers to take their place.
There is a building movement to make farming a little more financially viable for young folks.
Ever heard of Public Service Loan Forgiveness or Income Based Repayment? They are two options offered by the federal government to encourage college grads to go into public service and non-profit work. Within Public Service Loan Forgiveness, remaining student loan debt is forgiven after ten years. And with Income Based Repayment, one is protected from paying more than 15% of their disposable income to repay student loans.
Farming and food activists are trying to make farming qualify as a public service in these programs. According to this article by Kimberley Hart, adding farming to the pool of public service employment could be the piece we need to make farming more do-able for a new generation.
From my own personal observations and talks with wanna-be farmers, it is not the physical labor, time commitment, or geographic isolation that deters them from trashing their laptops and picking up pitchforks. It is a real concern that you just can’t make a living as a small scale farmer.
If you want to see farming become more financially viable for a new generation of farmers, contact your representatives. You can use this handy letter to get you started.