So you want to start a farm. What will it take?
Even a beef management degree can only get you so far, according to Bo Rigler, a 25-year-old graduate student from Colorado. “There’s no way I’ll ever be able to own my own ranch," he told NPR last week. "The price to buy into it — it’s too much; the cost of land is unreal.”
The National Young Farmers Coalition issued a report in 2011 meant to tackle this problem. William A. Powers, executive director of Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, told the report's authors that the main barrier to new farmers is land access. “Unless an aspiring farmer inherits land, it is very difficult to have access to it,” he said.
The USDA provides loans to folks wanting to purchase land for farming but it is often difficult to get approval even with good credit. Additionally, their $300,000 loan limit does not go far in the current real estate market.
These factors contribute to the decline of modern American farming. The total number of American farmers has dropped from six million in 1910 to about two million today. Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture, has spent the last few years calling for young people to begin farming nationwide, despite the obstacles. Fortunately, for young people interested in the food movement, there are many ways to get involved without having to worry about leasing or owning land.
According to the National Young Farmers Coalition's report, farm apprenticeships, local partnerships, and community supported agriculture (CSAs) are the best resources for beginners who are interested in farming. Communities at the local level can participate in farmer’s markets and community gardens.
But it's about more than getting your hands dirty. NYFC recommends action at the local, state, and federal level to encourage decision-makers to think about beginning farmers and the future of farming. Millennials can also help protect existing farms and ranches through zoning rights. States have the authority to create laws that preserve land for agriculture as well as provide tax credits to those who own land and consider selling it for a lower price.
Hopefully the political climate will change and we'll begin to see access to land and credit but, until then, most millennials will get their experience through community engagement.
So, if you're interested in farming: start basic. Young people everywhere are turning old lots into community gardens. You can buy produce from local farmers and keep your haul to what's in season. It may not the same as starting your own farm, but the principles of local, sustainable practices will surely help you raise better cows or kale down the road.