News / Science & Technology

Leaving Day Jobs, Novices Dig Into Farming

Leaving Day Jobs, Novices Dig into Farmingi
X
December 23, 2013 3:33 PM
The United States is one of the world’s leading agricultural powers, but few Americans are farmers - just two percent of the population. In recent years, however, it seems that small farms are popping up everywhere to serve the growing demand for locally produced food. The people running these ventures often have no experience in farming. VOA’s Steve Baragona meets one of them in Montgomery County, Maryland, about an hour from Washington.

Leaving Day Jobs, Novices Dig into Farming

Mark Mills quit his steady job as a pastry chef for the unsteady life of a farmer.

Making the decision took two things.

“Boundless enthusiasm, coupled with a little bit of ignorance,” Mills said.

Although the United States is one of the world’s leading agricultural powers, few Americans are farmers, just two percent of the population. In recent years, more small farms have popped up to serve the growing demand for locally produced food. Like Mills, the people running these ventures often have no experience in farming.

Mills majored in history in college and what he knows about producing food comes from gardening and 26 years working in restaurants.

So, why did he do it?

“Well, it’s beautiful. Why wouldn’t you want to come to work here?" he said. "I’m my own boss. But really, it’s my love of food.”

That love of food has become nearly a national obsession in recent years. Here’s one indicator: the number of farmers’ markets has more than doubled in the past decade.

Nuturing farmers

Federal, state and local governments see opportunities to create jobs and new businesses. Mills was one of four people in a new Montgomery County, Maryland, program helping novice farmers get started.

Sarah Miller with the Department of Economic Development says it worked better than they expected.

“Boy, we didn’t even know how many we would get," Mills said. "We thought maybe one or two would be great, but I don’t think that we expected four.”

The program provided a few essential things.

“They provided the connection with the landowner, so I could actually have the land to farm on, which is key," Mills said. "Then, certainly, they provided the financing for the deer fence and the irrigation, some basic things to get going.”

They connected him with a mentor: farming veteran Woody Woodroof.

“The big thing to work with him on now is season extension," Woodroof said, "helping him to do the things that will allow him to harvest crops deeper into the fall and early winter.”

Woodroof showed Mills how white netting keeps the frost off. Mills' first season has gone pretty well. He's harvested roughly 450 kilos of turnips, 90 kilos of carrots, 130 kilos of greens and more.

Financial challenges

The hardest part has not been growing the crops, he says. It’s been selling them.

“I won’t say that I broke even. It would be nice," Mills said. "I probably put five grand [thousand dollars] of my own money in. I’m probably going to walk away with four, four-and-a-half.”

Luckily, his wife’s non-farm job will keep them afloat financially for now. Experts say many new farmers need to support themselves with another source of income.

Despite the challenges, Mills has no regrets.

“If it’s really something you want to do, if the opportunity comes along you’ve got to take it,” he said.

Data on just how many other novice farmers are taking that opportunity will be detailed in a U.S. Department of Agriculture report early in 2014.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid