Groups Encourage Young Adults to Embrace Farming

Many young adults have passed on farming as a way of life, a trend that some farming groups want to reverse. One potential way to attract new generations? Student-loan forgiveness.

Farming may not seem naturally appealing to young adults. And as the current crop of farmers age out of the industry, that’s quickly becoming a problem.

But while the average farm owner is older than 55, industry groups aren’t giving up on attracting the next generation of farmers.

Consider the Young Farmer Network of Southeastern New England. As Alternet recently reported, the group got its start with a set of get-togethers among farmers in the region, whose work is often isolating. YFN quickly grew into a wide-ranging network that offers educational initiatives and guidance to farmers just starting out.

Tess Brown-Lavoie, one of YFN’s organizers, told Alternet that the initiative’s success so far has encouraged the group to aim higher. “In New England especially, it makes sense for us to have a regional movement to address issues like policy, resources, our historical context, and race—issues that don’t respect state lines,” she said.

Brown-Lavoie sits on the board of the National Young Farmers Coalition, which has an idea for helping draw more young people to the agricultural life.

NYFC is pushing for debt forgiveness for student loans, hoping it will help attract young adults back to family farms. The coalition backed the Young Farmer Success Act of 2015, which would make farmers eligible for the forgiveness of student loans under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Last year, NYFC teamed with Clif Bar & Company, a manufacturer of organic food and beverages, to draw attention to the farming industry’s age problem and the group’s proposed solution.

“We’re calling on Congress to provide the same student loan assistance offered to teachers, doctors, and other public servants,” NYFC Executive Director Lindsey Lusher Shute said in a news release last year. “We are a generation of farmers committed to growing quality food and stewarding our land and resources. This work must be celebrated and supported as a vital service to our nation.”

Beyond the halls of Congress, the initiative has found support in states with agricultural interests. New York passed a similar law last year, according to a Stateline report, and Wisconsin is considering passing one of its own.

A 2015 survey by NYFC [PDF] showed that young farmers could use the help. The survey of 700 NYFC members found that the average student loan debt carried by respondents was $35,000.

“Fifty-three percent of respondents are currently farming but struggle to make their student loan payments on a farm income. Nearly 30 percent of respondents didn’t pursue farming or are waiting to pursue farming because their student loan payments are more than a farming salary would support,” the report stated.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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