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Greenhorns: Building A Movement of Young Farmers

by Severine von Tscharner Fleming

Almost two years after its founding in a basement in Berkeley, California, The Greenhorns has matured from an idea for a recruitment film into a widespread national community. We are now happily rooted on my first commercial farm, Smithereen, on rented land in the Hudson Valley of New York.

In the autumn of 2007 we officially began seeking out mentors and characters for a film, traveling the country with a confident intuitive sense of an emerging movement of young farmers and a series of borrowed cameras and generous cinematographers. On the road for these 2 years we have found that the movement has emerged—scrappy, resourceful, adaptive young Americans have brought the products and the spirit of this movement into the sun, and we are proud to be the reporters of its successes and a hub for a much-needed centralized network.

This is America, and it takes all kinds. All over the country we have met enterprising, hopeful greenhorns: descendants of family dairies, punky inner-city gardeners, homesteaders, radical Christians, anarcho-activists, ex-suburbanites, graduates with biological science degrees, ex-teachers, ex-poets, ex-cowboys. The sons of traditional farmers, the daughters of migrant farm workers, the accidental agriculturalists and the deliberate career switchers all mark our maps. In foothills, warehouses, back valleys, and vacant lots they are popping up as we reclaim human spaces in the broad lazerland of monoculture that has engulfed rural America.

This Obama spring finds the young farmers as unlikely poster children of a new zeitgeist. Aptly so. Ranging around the country in my filmmaking, I have met hundreds of new and aspiring young farmers. I have found them a powerful, proud and wily sub-culture. I have found them to be charismatic icons of change, patriots of place, sensible and sensitive stewards of land and resources. They are the creators of a retrofit future, and just in time. We now have the political change.

We have reawakened our democratic will and discovered a dilation in the realms of possibility. We must take advantage of the moment. Yes! We are farming! We are hopeful.

The produce of local agriculture is in hot demand with the most loyal of customers. CSAs all have waiting lists, and healthy mothers determined to have healthy babies are fiercely devoted to nutrition and the farmers who provide it. Popular literature and sensibility is gravitating to our message of health for our selves, our soil, our social fabric. I have learned that it is possible for us to succeed, to prosper; meanwhile the market continues to grow!

Farming in America is simultaneously a privilege and a service. And no, it is not easy. Young farmers in America face tremendous structural obstacles. They seek access to land, capital, education, and business training. They seek cultural support and open minded consumers. They need reasonable paths to acquiring mechanical equipment and other infrastructures of medium-scale agriculture. These are missing components of our culture and our laws, and they are deeply missed by young farmers who are forced to improvise and invent new institutions to serve their new needs and new marketplace.

The movement is for real. Its practitioners are skilled, savvy and ferocious. They are assets to their community and guarantors of our future. They are shovel-ready, shovel-sharpened. Relishers of flavor, recipients of the generosity of photosynthesis. Hellbent on recovering from the age of convenience. They are young farmers with young muscles wisely applying their lives to the problems at hand. But it takes the applied passions of thousands, hundreds of thousands of courageous actions to repair a nation. It will take a radical shift in the structure of the Farm Bill, in the literacy of eaters, in the shape of commerce and land management. It will take the support of you all.

If you are thinking of farming, do!

If you cannot join us, connect with your stomachs and please buy and savor and share our products!

If your kid wants to farm, tell them it’s ok! Help them open a savings account or lend start-up capital to a young farmer in your town.

Please collaborate. Please facilitate. Please donate. Please join us or rally on your own to ensure the success of America’s young farmers.

*Editor’s note: The Greenhorns need a boost of funds in order to finish editing their film. A 15-minute preview was paid for using the deposit on their former office. I know these are hard economic times, but donate on their website if you are able!

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