The millennial generation is often called out for its social media addictions, its work habits, and even its unhealthy ideals around perfection, but according to the Washington Post, many of them are diverging from the status ladder and leading a crusade toward a different purpose entirely: farming.
Take Liz Whitehurst. Two years ago, she left her non-profit job and bought her farm, Owl’s Nest, from a retiring farmer. Now she grows an array of organically certified produce and sells to restaurants, through CSA shares, or at local farmers markets.
According to the latest Census of Agriculture in 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 69 percent of farmers today have a college degree, a number that suggests more millennials are leaving traditional desk jobs to pursue this very different life. The number of farmers aged 25 to 34 grew 2.2 percent between 2007 and 2012, and in some states like California and Nebraska the number of new farmers has grown by 20 percent or more.
While the growth is there, it’s not nearly enough to make up for the number of farmers leaving the profession. While agriculture gained 2,384 young farmers between 2007 and 2012, it lost nearly 100,000 farmers from older demographics, according to the 2012 Census. As The Washington Post notes, farms, especially the mid-sized ones that young farmers work toward building, are “critical to rural economies, generating jobs, spending and tax revenue.” To maintain this growth, it’s likely that the number of farmers would need to continue increasing.
What’s stopping the numbers from going up? A survey conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition shows that young farmers are concerned with costs of farmland and farm equipment and may need to lean on government programs to help get started. Similarly, 46 percent of young farmers consider student loan debt a “challenge,” and these debts may disqualify them from receiving other forms of help.
Still, the demand is there. “This report proves that there are thousands of young people ready to build new farms in the United States,” says Lindsey Shute, the executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, “but we’ve got to do our part and make sure that they will succeed.”
Read more about the millennial push toward an agricultural lifestyle on The Washington Post here.