I’m an aspiring farmer from a non-farming background and these days I join a growing number of Americans doing the same. For us, farming is attractive as a community rather than strictly commodity enterprise. When we look back at American agriculture for inspiration we see models of collective enterprise that break the dichotomy of a “hippie commune” ideal versus Green Revolution industry. I work with a grassroots nonprofit group of young farmers called The Greenhorns (est. 2007) that serves as a network of support for America’s young and aspiring farmers. Everything we do endorses agriculture as a community act. Take the Greenhorns’ online mapping project, Serve Your Country Food, which charts the daily appearance of new farmers like honeybees in the national hive.
Honeybees might be a good metaphor here, not just because they hustle hard and need to come together, but also because they like to dance. Greenhorns have organized over 30 parties for young farmers over the last two years, from a bicycle-powered Goat Spit in Brooklyn; a Rabbit Roast upstate; to a Maine Chautauqua and old school mixers in places as far flung as Portland, Charlottesville, Petaluma, Detroit, Burlington, and Vashon Island. This fall we are swarming west with free mixers and farmer preview screenings of The Greenhorns documentary in California.
Social gatherings are a crucial fourth piece of the young farmer puzzle, alongside better land access, interest-free start-up financing loans, and new farmer training and development at all levels of our educational system. Greenhorns mixers are venues where young farmers can hang out, but also learn how to break down a pig, identify beneficial insects, harvest seaweed, write a budget, and make compost tea. They can connect with local and regional ag nonprofits and service providers. They can kick back with a beer and a plate of delicious farm food, and get up and dance to live music. What an essential pleasure for the new land insurgency! As one young farmer from Washington state told us: “I need these kind of networking events for support and momentum.”
If you listen to some young farmers’ bleak social options you will see that these are events with purpose: “Since starting a farm, we have had almost no time to do anything fun,” writes an entrepreneur from California, who had to let go of her first farm business and take to living in an RV. Within 24-hours of her blog posting, there were 18 replies from fellow farmers across the country offering consolation and new work. The community of support is available and waiting to be rallied.
Today’s young farmer movement is a motley crew in terms of gender and ethnicity, so let’s get comfortable being diversely characterized. We can convene under the banner of a quilting bee, but just as easily for a film screening in the countryside or a West African dance session in an old barn. Greenhorns are preparing a guide called “Punk Yeoman Event Prep” that will walk young farmers through the process of staging their own get together. (You can also vote now for our Free Range Youtopia Grant to create a dynamic online event planning template and archive for young farmers everywhere.)
Following on the success of our battery of beta-testing events, the next step is securing government support for cultural enrichment for young farmers. There is precedent for this in France, where the Jeunes Agriculteurs receives funding from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) to “ensure economic and social vitality.” In 2007 the JA hit the streets of Paris with a “Techno Parade” promoting French agriculture. Our Greenhorn goal to institute party posture among farmers nationwide is far less costly and more aimed at bringing farmers together, but you get the idea.
But right now, we really need your help. Until the end of this week (10/22), Greenhorns are accepting donations to our campaign for America’s young farmers on Kickstarter. In exchange we are offering copies of our Guide for Beginning Farmers, handmade tote bags and bike flags, heirloom seeds, and invitations to farmer parties. Please consider helping us reach our goal so we can add networking features to our online map, distribute our film in more places, and host more parties for young farmers. Subsidize celebration! Share the link with friends, family and Facebook.
We, as young farmers, are seeding social change through an American agricultural revival. With your support, we can keep our events free and not-for-profit.