Serious Reads: Greenhorns, edited by Paula Manalo, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, and Zoe Ida Bradbury
According to government statistics, nearly 50 percent of American farmers are over the age of 55. The average age continues to rise as fewer family farms are being passed down to the next generation. But with the rise of the "locavore" movement and more awareness of sustainability and food production issues, more young people are choosing farming as a promising and rewarding career. Some of these new farmers were selected to write essays for Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers' Movement. Their stories are honest and inspiring, and each essay has something to say about the hardships and victories of farming.
These new farmers are often not from agricultural backgrounds. Many of them went to college or even received advanced degrees. They found their calling in food production through farm apprenticeships, growing their own gardens, or volunteering on farms around the world. Some of them have children, many have long-term partners with whom they share their work and their homes, and others have brought members of their families to help with farm labor. Their stories are diverse and their farms are located around the U.S., in both urban and rural areas.
There's a lot to learn from these short essays on farm life. Often the stories that these farmers chose to share were of disappointments, struggles, or hardships. They weren't meant to draw pity—rather, the authors showed how farming necessitates adaptability and creativity in solving problems. One farmer in Oregon faces a gopher infestation that is threatening his vegetable crop. After trying many passive methods of gopher-ridding, he resolves that he must shoot the gophers to protect his harvest. His struggle with killing these nibbling creatures is poignant.
A female farmer attempts to plow her fields with a team of horses and an ancient piece of farm equipment. But she is not skilled in handling horses, and her team quickly learns how to evade her commands and run away. Many of the essays carry this theme: high hopes, big dreams, and a brief crash back to Earth when one's skills fall short of the challenge. But these farmers dust themselves off and find solutions. After all, there are people to feed.
The mission of the Greenhorns network is to "promote, recruit, and support new farmers in America." Many of the farmers highlighted are young, but an almost equal number are older, have already had successful careers, or are starting families. This book provides insight into how much work goes into growing food while still maintaining your sanity. There are many bright spots in a life of farming—almost every author expounds upon the joys of time spent in nature, the rich community you can develop around agriculture, and the thrill of selling your own produce at farmers markets. Greenhorns is a well-written and eye-opening book, particularly if farming has ever appealed to you as a career, or if the farming lifestyle remains a complete mystery. The Greenhorns will show you how it's done.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.