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Newbie Farmers Find That Dirt Isn't Cheap

Local food is fashionable. Customers are swarming farmers' markets. Organic vegetables sell at a premium. So what's to keep a young, smart, enthusiastic would-be farmer from getting into this business and making a good living?

The lack of hard, cold cash for land and farm equipment, apparently. The National Young Farmers' Coalition asked more than a thousand young farmers what their biggest problems were. Most of the respondents said "lack of capital" and "land access." Those difficulties ranked much higher than health care, finding profitable markets, or lack of marketing skills.

Yet the most striking aspect of the survey may simply be that so many young people with little experience in farming are willing to try it. Of the 1,300 respondents, 78 percent did not grow up on farms. The majority were between 25 and 29-years-old.

The survey, in fact, serves as a portrait of a social movement. Growing vegetables has never, in recent memory, been quite so cool, or so attractive to the young and well-educated. Waves of them, perhaps to the anguish of their parents, are migrating into the rural countryside, perusing seed catalogs and learning the finer points of organic weed control.

The people who took part in this survey certainly aren't a random sample of all young farmers. The survey was sent out to organic farming networks, and the vast majority of those who responded are farming organically. They also were concentrated on the west coast, the northeast, and the upper Midwest.

If you're interested in another, more visual, portrait of this movement, you can check out a documentary film that one of the founders of the National Young Farmers' Coalition created. It's called "The Greenhorns."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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