Greenhorns: A Growing Network

Young Farmers are everywhere.

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Flier for Greenhorns movie screening at Morven Farm. Courtesy of Patrick Kiley.

I’m writing this from the South.  I’m on the road with Greenhorns, a documentary I made about young farmers in America– we are screening it at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Appalachian State University in Boone, NC and at the Contemporary Art Museum in Winston Salem, NC. This is the start of our campus outreach tour with the message of recruitment. As a young farmer, I’m down here, despite springtime farming pressures, in order to spread the message of what’s going on across this country.  It’s going on in the cities, but also in the suburbs, in small towns and out on dirt roads. It’s a movement of young farmers motivated to rejoin a very traditional profession, and doing so in quite surprising ways. I’m interested to speak particularly with young people who are fresh from their educations and making up their minds about what to do with it.
American farming, even now, is seen by increasing numbers of us as a sector for growth, opportunity, and sustainable economic development for rural places. Though many of us are over-educated for the economy in which we now find ourselves, the tangibility of farming seems to cut to the chase. That society at large doesn’t value farming is a fact we choose to ignore. That the feed stores are out of business, the suburbs have squandered valuable land, or that the soil is contaminated with the ruins of an industrial pastlife– this is unfortunate, a barrier, but can be overcome. What matters is moving forward, starting from where we are and figuring out the way to a country we can be proud of.

What a pleasure to see the telescoping of this movement. Many schools are now offering practical training programs for their students in response to direct, practical, pertinent questions about the logistics of starting a career in farming, making it work, and doing it sustainably.

people at the national young farmers' coalition

Severine von Tscharner Fleming enjoys creating awareness of the National Young Farmer Coalition. Courtesy of Patrick Kiley.

At each Greenhorns screening dozens of hands pop up, strong confident voices pipe up, and earnest and thoughtful analysis comes from both graduating seniors and underclassmen.  It seems like for every young farmer age 30, tenfold are aspiring young farmers age 20.

This is needed, this is happening, whether we are ready or not. The only question now is: will our elders and policymakers make this any easier for us? Will they address the hurdles of land access, availability of credit, provision of farmer services + extension? Will they stop conflating the interests of big business, agri-chemical companies and the mega-supermarkets with the interests of agriculture, of farmers and small business entrepreneurs? Can our next Farm Bill reframe the conditions within which we will start our farms, and raise our families, and keep improving our stewardship of this wonderful land?

America desperately needs bright young minds, bodies and businesses in our productive economy, the real economy. Bright young minds want to start fixing American agriculture. Please, get involved in the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, join in the action, become informed about these issues, and figure out how to ensure that this movement continues to expand.

Greenhorns Tips for Organizing Young Farmer

The follow is an excerpt. To access the full Guide, contact the Greenhorns at
Posture & Manners: A good organizer can create an atmosphere of kindness and delight. A good organizer will be able to infuse even the dull parts of event prep (scrubbing the toilet, stapling up flyers) with purposeful spunk. A good organizer creates a whirlwind of improvisation and finesse.

Pay-Dirt Preparation: Getting everyone to come to your party, particularly if you are in a bit of a spread out cluster of young farmers can be quite a challenge. One way we’ve found better success is by making the rounds early in the week before the party to order produce/milk/meat/flowers that we’ll need at the event and asking the farmer to bring it with them. Or else we just buy it then and invite them to come. Frankly, if the programming isn’t really that relevant, no matter how nice you are they won’t come, there is just too much to do during the growing season. So be relevant, and if you fail…that’s a good lesson too.
Convening Conversations: Conversations are so important to keep things moving forward, to maintain consensus. But often, we are all very busy and don’t make time for important, contemplative conversations. That is why it is important to revere the conversation, make a lot of hustle bustle around it, and convene a space where it can unfold. Some conversations are simple like: “Look how cool that spit-roasted lamb leg looks, gee I want to cook more meat with the bone in.” “He says that that lamb is a rare breed hogget” “What a taste, I wonder if I can split a whole animal with my friends in my freezer!” Build institutional literacy, and do it by talking more.

Donations: We love our consistent corporate sponsors, they have been so helpful in throwing these events and setting a good example. But make an effort to not choose all corporate organic sponsors from out of town; make an effort to source and connect with local growers and local people in the lead up. Obviously seasonal is cheaper if you are buying from farmers, and don’t hit them up for early tomatoes if you want to keep any friends. Keep a list of donors, thank them well with paraphernalia, invite them to all events, give them back their crates/cardboard boxes. Always do lots of outreach to young-farmer-serving organizations, they can so easily feel alienated! And don’t forget your cups, cutlery & napkins…ask participants to bring their own or get donations from a local grocery store.

Policy Makers: Politicos can be our friends. Make sure to tell your representatives that a large group of young voters with policy opinions are getting together in one place! Call their press secretary, invite them to join in, or just alert them to the vital details of what you are doing. Sometimes our goal is just to poke them and say hey, we’re here and we count and we’re a big constituency!
Clean: Venue should be left spic and span, preferably with a case of leftover wine/beer or goodies of some kind. Helpers and schleppers should be given things that are extra. Clean-up volunteers should be identified early, and connected with throughout the party to confirm their commitment.

Conclude & Compost: Rest & reflect afterwards – assess what went wrong and what went right. Process your thoughts and disseminate them to your cohorts and to us.


Avatar of Severine V T Fleming

Severine V T Fleming

Severine v T Fleming is the director of Greenhorns, a grassroots non-profit organization working nationally to promote, recruit and support young farmers. The Greenhorns is a tremendous, very online, collaboration-driven collective that produces publications, new media, blog, radio, video, and many hands-on-in-person workshops, mixers, wildcraftings and skilshares. Join us.

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