Bringing Back Cincinnatus
America needs farmers: today’s average farmer or rancher is currently 58 years old, and many will be retiring soon. Whereas in 1840, almost 70 percent of our labor force worked in agriculture, a mere two percent were doing so in 2000. “In just five years,” notes Vox, “The US experienced a net loss of 90,000 farms.”
How to solve this problem? The U.S. Department of Agriculture has one rather unexpected answer, as Sena Christian reports for Newsweek:
… The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is calling for at least 100,000 new farmers in the coming years. Attracting military personnel to farming is one way the USDA hopes to develop this workforce. On November 14, at an inaugural conference in Iowa for groups assisting veterans interested in agriculture, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden named former Marine Corps Reservist Karis Gutter as the military veterans agricultural liaison, a new position created by the legislation. Gutter’s job is to connect veterans to vocational farming programs and assist them in using federal education benefits to pursue this profession.
This follows the 2014 Farm Bill, which for the first time recognized veterans as a distinct class of “beginning” farmers and ranchers—those with operations under 10 years old. This allows the group to receive additional government assistance for agricultural programs. For instance, farming veterans will be charged a lower interest rate by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency on direct-operating loans for such things as livestock, fuel and building repairs.
Not only would this enterprise hopefully help mitigate homeless and unemployment problems amongst military veterans, some veteran-farmers report that the agrarian lifestyle has also helped them fight PTSD. Dr. Daniel Weiss, a University of California psychologist, told Christian, “There is clear anecdotal evidence from individual veterans and their families of the importance of these [agricultural] programs in helping to cope and recover from the psychological injuries suffered during deployment,” though he notes that these findings are only tracked over the short-term as of yet.
However, that said, preliminary results seem to demonstrate both the practicality and therapeutic benefits of such an effort. Veterans need jobs—but many also need a way to assimilate back into society. Farming is an intensely rewarding profession, by way of its focus on renewal, growth, creativity, and community. It gives farmers the ability to create something beautiful, and profoundly needful. It enables them to give, both to the people around them and to the earth.
Unfortunately, the American farming industry is currently a broken system, saddled with many unnecessary regulations and expenses that make it difficult for young farmers to get started (this is worth an entire post by itself, but for now, Joel Salatin’s opinions are worth considering). Hopefully, with time, we will see some reforms in these areas. But these changes will not be made without a new generation of farmers, who help build a new agrarian infrastructure.
Despite all its flaws, farming is a very promising enterprise—one that’s been rejuvenated by a return to the local and a burgeoning market for smaller, organic farms. America badly needs more farmers, and this may be one promising path towards building the next generation of agrarians—and building a future for veterans, as well.