Not all hipsters are reading Jack Kerouac in red-brick-walled coffee shops in a gentrifying urban neighborhood. Some are opting instead to wake up at 5 a.m. to feed chickens and till the fields.
That’s right, young people interested in organic and local foods and conscious about the environment are favoring a career in farming.
While the average age of a farmer in the U.S. has been getting older for more than 30 years to the current 58.3 years old, reported Jennifer Mitchell of NPR, in some states where land is cheap, mostly in the Northeast, more young people are choosing a life on the land. The number of farmers younger than 35 has nudged up 1.5 percent, nationally.
But in Maine, farmers under the age of 35 have increased by 40 percent, John Rebar, executive director of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, told NPR.
“There's a new surge of youthful vigor into American agriculture thousands of young people who've never farmed before are trying it out,” wrote NPR's Dan Charles reported in 2011.
It’s a generation concerned about global warning, environmental health and climate change. Most are college educated and from non-farm backgrounds. They work on small, independent farms growing organic foods for local consumers.
“This is an idealistic crowd; nobody says that they're doing it to make money. Some describe their farming as a kind of protest against the idea that success means a big paycheck, or as a protest against an economy dominated by big corporations,” Charles reported.
Mitchell added: “It's a generation that has grown up in the digital age, but embraced some very old-school things: the farmers market, craft beer, artisan cheese. The point, they say, is to find a way to live high-quality, sustainable lives, and help others do the same.”
Interest in farming is trickling down to younger students.
“Membership in FFA reached 610,240 in 2014 — that’s an increase of 30,000 in just two years,” reported the American Farm Bureau blog, The Voice of Agriculture. “Increasingly, the organization is drawing membership from non-farm and urban youth. This growth outpaces other youth organizations, including the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.”
The reason for the industry’s growth may go beyond youthful idealism. There is also money to be made in farming.
“U.S. farm incomes reached record levels in recent years, stimulating growth in other agribusiness products,” wrote Robert Giblin of The Voice of Agriculture. “As a result, agribusiness (has) been recruiting heavily from colleges and universities. With a brighter job outlook, undergraduate enrollment in agricultural programs increased 20 percent from 2006 to 2011.”
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