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Posted: July 16 2010

Maine’s Young Farmers Gather to Revive Century-Old Agrarian Tradition: Grassroots-Organized “Chautauqua” A Further Signal of American Agricultural Renaissance

The Greenhorns will host a key cultural gathering in Maine in August. In a state where conventional statistics suggest a decline in youth-led economy, this “Chautauqua” will demonstrate how young people are reviving diversified, sustainable farming and reclaiming the job of growing food from corporations.
Highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chautauquas were rural events that brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day. Orator William Jennings Bryan called them a “potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation,” and Theodore Roosevelt reportedly called them “the most American thing in America.”
At the Chautauqua, to be held at several venues in Midcoast and Downeast Maine August 13-15 and co-sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), the Greenhorns will host a mixer for the state’s many new young farmers, alongside veteran MOFGA members; sponsor a presentation by author Elaine Weiss on the World War II era “Woman’s Land Army” phenomenon; and bring together young farmer experts for workshops in seed saving, beekeeping, broom-making, sweet grass and seaweed harvesting, heritage work songs, New England stone wall mending, knot-tying, falconry, and even urban rooftop farming. The weekend festivities will conclude with a screening of rare archival agricultural films at a historic Grange Hall in Machias, hosted by the artist-agrarian group the Beehive Collective. Local foods prepared by young chefs, organic farm visits, and music and dance will fill out this unique schedule of events.

As the New York Times Magazine and USA Today have recently reported, “there's something afoot” with America’s quietly building “wave of young farmers.” Despite the crisis of attrition in American agriculture in recent years, signs do indeed point to a new youth revival. According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, only 6% of American farmers are under age 35 – but that number is double what the previous census found in 2002. The statewide self-assembling of young farmers represents a particularly potent trend in Maine, as it challenges the implications of Federal Census Bureau data. The Bureau previously projected that the state would rank with the 2nd lowest youth population by state by 2025. In spite of such statistics, a case of ambitious, youth-led agricultural organizing provides a rather different picture of a robust youth community in this fiercely independent state.
WHO: The Greenhorns (www.thegreenhorns.net)
MOFGA (www.mofga.org)
The Beehive Collective (www.beehivecollective.org)
WHAT: A Young Farmer Chautauqua and Good Time Festival
WHEN: Friday, August 13th through Sunday, August 15th
RSVP by emailing Michelle ([email protected])