News / USA

New Farmers Confront Realities of Local Food Movement

For the first time in memory, farming in America is "cool."

A nationwide movement, fueled by disdain for industrial-scale agriculture, is inspiring many young people with no farming experience to get into agriculture - especially the small-scale, local, organic kind.

But the question for this budding movement is whether it can survive the harsh realities of the business world.

Duke University’s new campus farm in Durham, North Carolina celebrated its first-ever harvest festival recently. The farm's manager, Emily Sloss, graduated from Duke last year with a degree in public policy - not agriculture. She expected to go to graduate school to study urban planning.

“Now I’m a farmer," she said. "Yeah. Believe it or not.”

This accidental farmer turned a senior-year class project exploring the idea of a campus farm into a reality. In just its first year, the farm has provided the campus dining halls with more than two tonnes of fresh produce.

“It’s phenomenal," said Duke dining halls mangaer Nate Peterson with food service company Cafe Bon Appetit. "The produce that is coming out of the Duke Farm and coming into our cafes is excellent quality.”

We had to do something

Sloss credits that senior-year class in food and energy policy for inspiring her to make a career change from budding urban planner to full-time farmer.

“It just became really apparent that we had to do something - or I had to do something - about the way I ate," said Sloss. "And then this project came into my life and kind of demanded my attention.”

“A lot of people that are becoming farmers now are not the people you would traditionally think of as farmers," said Maureen Moody, farm director at the not-for-profit Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture outside Washington, DC. "Me and a lot of the people I know, we didn’t grow up on farms. We didn’t go to ag school, even.”

Accurate data are hard to come by, but a recent survey by organic farm networks found 78 percent of new farmers were not raised on farms.

Moody knows the story well. She left her doctoral program in cultural anthropology studying what motivates young farmers to become a farmer herself.

Popular movies and widely read books criticizing large-scale American food production for its damaging health and environmental impacts are helping spur young people into agriculture.

Business growing, but tough going

Demand for locally raised food is growing as well, into a business that is now worth at least $5 billion, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

It's still a drop in the bucket in the U.S. food supply. And many who venture into farming find the business realities are tougher than they thought. Maureen Moody says many burn out after a couple years and look for jobs with health benefits and retirement plans.

“It’s really hard to stick with," she said. "Some do, and they figure out a way to make it work. But it’s really hard to make any money and to make a living.”

The Arcadia Center is a non-profit, so it doesn’t face quite the same pressures. And the Duke Campus Farm has advantages that most small enterprises do not: Students who will work for free, and a university that supports it.

The first wave

But Emily Sloss says the farmers here wants to prove they can make it as a business. “Because we really believe if Duke University, a farm that has land that’s rent-free, that has a huge pool of free labor, if we can’t be financially sustainable, then the local food movement isn’t a reality," she said.

Making that movement a reality will not be easy. But Maureen Moody says they have just begun.

“I think it takes people who are willing to be the first wave, if you will," she said. "Like any social movement, it takes people who are willing to go through the growing pains of figuring out how to make it work.”

The Duke Campus Farm is celebrating its first season in business. Many of its growing pains lie ahead. The same can be said for the movement it represents. These are exciting but difficult times for young farmers getting their first taste of farming life.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid