Why Young People Should Consider Becoming Farmers
In 2011, the average age of the American farmer was 57; in 2012, for every farmer under the age of 25 there are 5 farmers over the age of 70.
Farming is a Career
I don't think farming as a career choice gets enough attention. When I was growing up, I was told I could be anything I wanted: An astronaut, a doctor, a lawyer, or even a law-practicing doctor on the moon.
But no one ever mentioned farming.
I figured farming was for farmers and their children. Even when I was a teenager investigating colleges, I didn't even consider studying agriculture. It didn't even occur to me. And I don't think it occurred to anyone in my family, either.
But why? Why is this profession sidelined? It's a job, after all. It's a way to make a living. Anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit might be interested; anyone who loves animals might want to check out farming; anyone who loves being outside would probably want to be a farmer.
I just want to put it out there: If you want to become a farmer, you can. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
If you have high school or college aged children who "don't know what they want to be when they grow up," consider suggesting that they investigate becoming a farmer. It's no different than considering being a doctor, an astronaut, a banker, a teacher, a writer, a model, or a retail store manager.
If no one has suggested that you consider farming as a career, then let me be the first.
In 2011, the average age of the American farmer was 57; in 2012, for every one farmer under the age of 25, there are five farmers over the age of 70. That means that within the next 20 years, more than half of all the farmers in the United States will be too old to work, will be retired, or will be deceased.
There is one product that everyone can learn to make that will never, ever stop being needed:
Today’s teenagers, my contemporaries (the folks in their 20s), and people in their 30s and 40s should really think about it.
Resources for Getting Started
- If you want to, check out colleges and universities that offer agricultural studies programs. A simple Google search will do the trick. A degree isn't necessary, though.
- Look at Start2Farm.gov for information on Beginning Farmer and Rancher programs and loans.
- Check out the USDA Farm Service Agency's website for information on loans and programs for small and beginning farmers and ranchers.
- Visit BeginningFarmers.org - they have lots of useful information and links.
- Locate and visit your local agricultural extension office.
- If you have farmer relatives, talk to them.
- Go to farmer's markets and meet some farmers.
BUT I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT FARMING!
That’s okay! You didn’t know how to read until someone taught you, right? And you didn’t know how to drive until you learned.
I almost hate to say this, because it does sort of take some of the romanticism out of farming, but there really are no skills associated with farming that the average person can’t learn and even master.
Even if you’re not very mechanically inclined, it’s all just nuts and bolts. Even if you’ve never grown anything, it’s really just about supplying the plants with what they need to grow properly, and paying attention to them, and learning when it’s time to harvest.
Working with livestock animals is no different. What does someone who has never owned a dog do when they decide to get a dog? Research! Books! The internet! Maybe they even go take a class at their local pet store or community college about how to take care of a dog.
My suggestion to anyone interested in learning how to farm would be to try to find a small family-farm where you can volunteer, or even take an internship. Look at it like going to college.
Go to farmer’s markets and meet people who are already farming. Talk to them – they would probably love to talk to you. I literally have yet to meet anyone who operates a farm and doesn’t want to talk about it and share what they do.
Small-scale farming may be the one business where the more people there are doing it, the better off everyone in the business will be.
My point is that the information is all out there, and if you’re motivated you can get it. You do not need to be the son or daughter, or even grandchild of a farmer in order to become one yourself.
BUT FARMING IS HARD WORK!
This is true. But so is sitting at a computer all day, or running after toddlers in the daycare that you manage, or being an important (but very stressed out) financial analyst for a big company.
In general, work is hard. That’s why we call it work. It doesn’t really matter what kind of work it is.
The benefits of working in farming versus working in, say, an office, are so numerous that I should probably just write another article on the topic. But to name a few, here goes:
- Exercise! Stop paying for that gym membership and buying workout videos. As a farmer, you'll get plenty of exercise and you'll naturally get into and stay in shape.
- Sunshine! Forget the tanning booth and get a "farmer's tan!" Okay, maybe that's not so glamorous, but being out in the sun gets you some Vitamin D, and it's good for the spirit, too.
- Eat better! Vegetables are much more fun to eat when you've grown them yourself. Raise your own beef, pork, chicken, lamb or some other kind of meat, and you will get to decide what the animal will eat and what kind of life it will have before it goes to the butcher. It's trite, but it's true: You are what you eat.
- Live in the seasons! You should get to experience more than one season through the year, and if you work in a "climate controlled" environment I think you'll appreciate what I'm saying. Life is fuller when you get to be too hot and sweaty, when you get to be cold, when you get to watch the subtle change in green from summer to autumn, when you become aware of the approaching spring because the air quality changes, when you can "smell" winter coming. The natural world is so much more complex than I think we will ever understand, much less appreciate.
BUT SUCCESS ISN'T GUARANTEED IN FARMING!
1\No, nothing is certain. And bad things can happen to any business; small farms are certainly not excluded from this rule.
If the uncertainty of success in a small farming business venture is what really turns you off, then I would encourage you to consider some other profession.
Let’s take banking, for instance. You might get a job with a well-known, successful bank. You might move up the ranks and end up with a job making $170,000 per year. You might work for this bank until you’re 40 or 50.
And this bank might fail. It might merge with another bank and lay you off. The Powers That Be might decide that your position is no longer essential to business functions.
There is no guarantee of success in any career. At least if you’re a farmer, you will have a more direct effect on the chances for success. And if something goes horribly wrong, you will be the one to decide how to react to it.
If the storm comes and you can weather it, you can succeed. There’s no gain without risk, no winning without trying, and no success without some failure intermixed.
You Will Not Get Rich Farming
In general, this is probably true.
But who cares? And what’s “rich,” anyway?
If you’re concerned that you will not be able to always afford to best and newest this-thing or that-thing, then maybe farming really isn’t for you. But if you have even the smallest belief, even the tiniest little doubt that maybe all of that “stuff” that money can buy isn’t really what’s important in life, then I would encourage you to consider becoming a farmer.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, in 2010 the average annual salary for a farmer was $60,750. I say, Not bad - especially when you consider that most families have two adults in the workforce.
MYTH: You should be related to a farmer if you're going to become a farmer
That's absolutely false. While there are some serious benefits to having family members already farming (you might have a mentor, or have access to land without having to make a big purchase), it's not necessary.
Being the first person in your immediate family to decide to become a farmer shouldn't discourage you anymore than being the first person in your immediate family to attend college.
Anyone can become a farmer. In fact, you can decide right now that you want to farm, even if you don’t own land.
Are you planning to own a home someday? For most people, the answer is probably yes. Okay then, so you were already planning to purchase some property. Why not purchase a house that you can live in, on a piece of land that you can earn money with?
Mortgage rates are between 3% and 5% right now - as low as they've been in decades and decades. This may be a bad time to have to look for a job, buy a car, or get a credit card, but it may be one of the best times in recent U.S. history to purchase land.
MYTH: You need hundreds and hundreds of acres to farm
First of all, you could support your whole family on only a couple well-managed acres.
On 30 or 40 well-managed acres, with a diversified farming operation, you could earn enough money to live a simple, humble, and wonderful life without having to work off of the farm.
As with any business that you might try to start on your own, you don't want to try to do everything at once. Start small - baby steps - learn and learn some more. Expect to not make any money the first few years; in fact, you might even lose money the first year or two.
Is farming going to be for everybody? No. I just feel like the option isn't discussed enough.
INDEPENDENCE AND SELF-RELIANCE
I haven't really been on this earth long enough to know, but I think we used to have this thing called The American Dream. If I'm not mistaken, this "dream" had something to do with becoming an independent, self-reliant person; someone who takes care of themselves and their own.
Maybe that way of thinking doesn't even apply anymore, but I think there is real value in choosing a profession that will allow you to eventually become an independent person.
The way I see it, I have two options in terms of careers (and so does everyone else):
- I can work for someone else, doing something that they have deemed to be important to the function of their business (the government included), and in exchange for my work they will pay me money that I can live off of.
- I can start my own business and work for myself, doing something that I’m interested in, and I will earn money that I will allocate to myself, and I will reinvest my earnings in the business
There's risk involved either way.
It appears to me that life is fraught with uncertainty, and maybe I’m a bit of a control-freak but I’d rather be as independent as possible than rely on someone else to make sure that I can put food on my table and a roof over my head.
I don't think there's a profession out there that allows for more independence than farming. First, you produce your own food, Then you produce excess food, and you sell that food to others.
It's the profession I'm headed for, anyway. Thanks for reading this article - truth is, I wrote it for myself as much as for anyone else.