Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why Are Young, Educated Americans Going Back to the Farm?

Originally published on, a digital information service surfacing emerging stories in news, entertainment, art and culture; powered by award-winning journalists.
By Nelson Harvey

I am a 25-year-old college graduate with a degree from a fairly prestigious eastern university, and I pull weeds for a living. At first blush, you might think I'm overqualified, and after four hours of weeding the squash beds, when the stiffness begins to set in, that's what I start to believe, too. In fact, nothing in college prepared me for this. My only credentials are the past two summers, spent learning by doing: planting, thinning, trellising, fertilizing, tilling, harvesting, washing, packing and, of course, weeding.

I am a farm intern, and to me, the only thing more remarkable than the fact that I have spent much of the past three summers happily stooping over vegetable rows (I am 6'4'') is that I am not alone. Across the country, college students and graduates like myself, many with little or no farming background, have been flocking to small farms in droves, shacking up in old farmhouses, trailers and tents, and working for free or for peanuts, all in exchange for a little instruction in the fine art of running a farm.

"It's almost like a third education after college," said Kelly Coffman, 30, a second-year apprentice at Rain Crow Farm in Paonia, CO. Coffman studied at Prescott College in Arizona and Naropa University in Boulder, CO, and worked in the California state park system and as a kindergarten teacher, before deciding to work on farms. "When you have [a liberal arts] education, you get to a point where you realize wait, I need to have a more basic fundamental education about being human. Food, water, shelter...these things are important," she said.

Read the rest on Huffington Post

Photo Credit: Nelson Harvey/Turnstyle


Blogger karental said...

Interesting article. Who would've thought working for nothing was a "luxury"?

August 3, 2011 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Odie Langley said...

With all the pressure and drama in most office related jobs I envy you pulling weeds and tending the crop as long as the basic needs are met.

August 3, 2011 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger nawrockifamily said...

I just finished reading this article before checking your blog for the day. Interesting stuff! And it sounds like you are in the thick of it in your part of the country :-)

August 3, 2011 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger Jimmie said...

My husband and I go to our local farmers market twice a week, but we also travel about an hour to a wonderful Saturday market in Boone, NC. I have commented to my friends that it is worth the effort to go there because so many of the people selling home grown produce, cheese, meat, breads, plants, etc. are young twenty-somethings. Their attitude is so refreshing. They work hard and are proud of what they produce and make. I know they don't make much money, but the depth of the education they are gaining is priceless. I am energized by my age of 65 years. My husband and I grow some of our food, but we'd still buy from these young people just to support and be around them.

Three cheers for these young folks, yourself among them!!

August 3, 2011 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

I don't think it's going BACK to the farm so much as going to the farm life to begin a life of learning. I think its more a realization that a formal education really isn't a complete education.

I grew up homesteading on the small farm I live on now. I went back to school after having worked as a chef for 20 years. I carried the double major while working full time and helping to raise 5 kids. While in college I was astounded at how little effort the students were willing to put in and laughed heartily at all the excuses of why a 19 year old with no job, no family, and living on campus didn't have time to complete their assignments - excused don't cut it on the farm and often times lead to injury (animal or human).

I have enough college credits to have degrees in Computer Science, Physics (all most), and a minor in Mathematics but I've never bothered to get the official piece of paper.

I value my degree from the school of hard knocks much more than the college one because, unlike in college, I know you don't get to them the next lesson without actually learning the previous.

August 3, 2011 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Wow, the article was great but the comments are even better! We work at a farmers market every wednesday selling my husband's homemade caramel and we love our time there (we'll be there in a few hours). We always buy o ur dinner there and stock up for the week and we too love the people we know and their committment to what they produce. I love this new movement!! Perhaps colleges should start to offer a semester on the farm in addition to a semester abroad!

August 3, 2011 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger Stargazer 2 said...


August 3, 2011 at 1:41 PM  
OpenID said...

Thanks for posting this article, Jenna. Informative, interesting and doesn't simply glorify the "back to the land" movement. As a former journalist learning to become a farmer myself, I enjoy reading articles like this to keep it real!

August 3, 2011 at 1:47 PM  
OpenID kindsofhoneyerica said...

Oh, yay! I have been pondering this phenomenon myself for awhile. Despite the fact that the years of education can feel like a "waste" (at least if you're stuck paying for them for the next 30 years like I am), I do think the trend makes sense - the thinkers think and think and then, for both passion and quality of life reasons, they become doers, keenly aware of who they are within their world. And farming is a combination of creativity and nurture and social/ecological action in community - so perfect for the liberal arts major!

So, off-and-on I've been thinking, "Someone ought to look into this further. Someone ought to write an article about it. Actually, I probably should . . . but at the moment I'd rather make this peach tart. Maybe in the winter. Or maybe someone else will do it and then I can just read it." And so someone has. Thanks for posting it!

August 3, 2011 at 6:11 PM  
Blogger Shonya said...

Fascinating! I hear more and more from people who regret not living closer to the land, who are beginning to realize the value of industry over consumerism, and some who fear being able to find food should our economy lead to a collapse of food sources in this country. Thanks for sharing!

August 3, 2011 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger redbird said...

Great article—I’m so glad this mentality is growing.

August 3, 2011 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

I am one of the young people going back to farming. I actually have a degree in the medical field, but the pay was awful for all the amount of paperwork you have to do and it seemed like face to face contact with my patients was getting shorter and shorter. I have started farming on a very small scale in my own backyard and while it does not pay much monetarily, I have not had to buy lettuce since last December, no chain store veggies, and I have made several gallons of homegrown pasta sauce. I also am more aware of my gardening neighbors, local farms, farmers, and farmers markets and more healthy as a result of this. Yes, it is very hard work to farm organically and raise a substantial harvest, especially in the brutal heat of the deep South, but the work is so rewarding. I don't see myself returning to office work again.

August 4, 2011 at 1:04 AM  
Blogger Kelpie and Collie said...

While I applaud the courage to do this, and admire the work ethic required to be successful in this, I wonder if these young people have any thought toward health insurance and retirement- health insurance being a biggy... For most of us, it's the reason we keep our day jobs..........

August 4, 2011 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger Tarun Kumar said...

you are right... you can also find latest Graduate Education alerts online.

August 6, 2011 at 3:40 AM  
Blogger jamberry_song said...

I don't know how they pay off their loan debts. :/ This is my story, though. I went to school for art and English, and here I am, back on the family farm, and finding I love this lifestyle as much as I do my chosen fields. But how to pay off all this debt? Where to find employment that would allow me to do this AND pursue what I love without eating all my time away at a desk in front of a computer? These are the big questions of my generation. I don't know how these people do it.

August 6, 2011 at 7:25 PM  

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