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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs