young dreams, huge obstacles
published Jul. 10, 2013, for Harvest Public Media.
While the farming community continues to age fewer young people are filling the ranks, prompting the question: Do young people even want to farm anymore?
The quick answer is yes, just not in the same numbers as they used to. And surveys indicate many of them don’t want to farm in conventional ways.
A 2011 survey from the National Young Farmers Coalition (PDF) showed access to land and capital to be the single biggest factors keeping young people from getting into farming or ranching. The results also indicated young people are concerned about the environment and interested in small-scale operations.
But it can be difficult to turn dreams of a farm life into reality.
In Longmont, Colo., Eva Teague, 31, has learned how difficult it can be to start a financially sound pig farm. Teague is a grad school dropout turned farmer, originally from the East Coast. Jaded with academia, she moved to Colorado and began working as a farm apprentice. She bought her first pigs a couple years ago.
“(I) didn’t have that much cash, so I paid for feed with the credit card just to get going,” Teague said.
Right now, her biggest challenge, like many other young farmers is access to capital. She recently secured a low-interest loan from the federal Farm Service Agency, but it’s not enough to get her business off the ground completely. Teague still spends her days on the farm and every evening working full-time as a waitress. Next year she plans to take a big leap; she wants to quit her off-farm job and rely solely on her on-farm income to sustain herself.
Teague lucked out and scored a lease for her 15 acres at the base of the Rocky Mountains after searching for plots of land on Craigslist. She taught herself Quickbooks accounting software through Google searches. She relies heavily on the skills she picked up during a handful of apprenticeships throughout Colorado. In short, Teague is part of the millenial generation of farmers, a group that often eschews traditional forms of agriculture and favors small-scale operations.
“It’s a very rare person who’s not grown up on a farm that’s going to go out and say, ‘I want to plant 100,000 acres of corn. I want to invest $300,000 in a tractor. I want to get a confinement hog barn with 300,000 pigs,” Teague said.
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