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Young farmers: Hard row to hoe

Despite intense interest in farming among younger Americans, it’s very hard to get started:

“Everyone wants young farmers to succeed — we all know that,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, who oversaw the survey. “But no one was addressing this big elephant in the room, which was capital and land access.”

Ms. Shute’s husband, Benjamin, runs Hearty Roots Community Farm in the Hudson Valley, which delivers seasonal produce to 500 families. Ms. Shute said she hoped that the survey results, released on Wednesday, would demonstrate to the United States Department of Agriculture and to Congress that young farmers, although passionate, have needs that must be addressed.

The obstacles are formidable. At Quincy Farm in upstate New York, Luke Deikis and Cara Fraver say they are living their dream, harvesting cabbage, sweet potatoes and carrots on a 49-acre property on the Hudson River. Still, even after three years of farming, Ms. Fraver, 30, waits tables, and Mr. Deikis, 31, moonlights as an engineer in the film industry, occasionally driving three and a half hours to Manhattan to pay the bills.


Six miles outside of Knoxville, Iowa, Ethan Book, 31, chose to raise livestock, as his family did 60 years ago. A former youth pastor, Mr. Book became a farmer because he had high cholesterol and had read that pasture-raised meat was healthier to eat. “In my mind,” he said, “our animals are doing what they were created to do, eating the way they were created to eat.”

Although Mr. Book does not regret his decision to farm, he discourages others from entering the business. “It’s going to tear you down financially, even if you make no mistakes,” he says.

Data from the Agriculture Department support his warning — only 22 percent of beginning farmers turn a profit their first year. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition found that 73 percent of young farmers must work away from the farm; Mr. Book, a father of four, works 40 hours a week at a farm store.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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