Amy Baron greets “Bill” and the kids at Weir River Farm in Hingham, MA.
While it was once a common occupation, farming is now considered an unusual career choice. As Amy put it, “it is outside the realm of doctor, lawyer, teacher.”
“I couldn’t see myself not being outside and moving around and being active.”-Adam Tedeschi at Second Nature Farm in Norton, MA.
Help wanted: recent college graduate seeking a job providing independence, a deep sense of satisfaction, and plenty of manual labor. Love of nature, a desire to work outdoors, and a passion for food are essential. Must be willing to work long hours for relatively low pay in sometimes challenging conditions. If interested, apply at a small farm near you.
Given the hard work and low starting salary, it is surprising that one of the world’s oldest professions is undergoing something of a renaissance among young people. The 2007 U.S. Agricultural Census (the most recent available) shows that in just five years, the number of Massachusetts farmers age 35 and under increased more than 60%—from 210 in 2002 to 341 in 2007. In order to find out why farming appeals to this generation of young adults, I spoke with three farmers: Adam Tedeschi (age 27) of Norton’s Second Nature Farm, Rory O’Dwyer (age 32) of Langwater Farm in Easton, and Amy Baron (age 32) of Weir River Farm in Hingham.
From an early age, all three farmers loved nature and being outdoors. While at college, Adam, a graduate of Wesleyan University, worked at the student-run farm and spent summers working at a perennial nursery in Norton. When asked what drew him to farming, Adam said, “I loved combining physical and mental work. I couldn’t see myself not being outside and moving around and being active.” For Rory, who farms with her brother Kevin and sister-in-law Kate, her nascent love of agriculture began with her mom’s garden. After graduating from Providence College, where she developed in interest in food politics, she got a job at small farm to see, as she put it, “how it really works.” At the end of the summer she left for “a grown-up job” but lasted only two weeks before she realized that she “had fallen in love with farming.” Over the next several years, she honed her skills and then started Langwater Farm with her family members. It was also a backyard garden, in this case behind her college apartment, that got Amy, who has a biology degree from Tufts, interested in agriculture. A course in urban community gardening and a five-year stint at City Sprouts teaching school children about growing food followed. All three farmers spent several years as apprentices on farms, gaining valuable experience.
While it was once a common occupation, farming is now considered an unusual career choice. As Amy put it, “it is outside the realm of doctor, lawyer, teacher.” Initially, some of their parents had reservations, health insurance and the ability to repay student loans chief among them. While Amy’s parents remain somewhat unsure of her choice, both Adam and Rory’s parents are enthusiastic supporters of their career paths. In the economic balancing act that comes with starting a small farm, parents often play a large role. Adam says of his parents, “they have been crucial to my success and getting this farm off the ground. Family is huge.” Rory says her mom “has been amazing. She has done so much for us, so much of the behind the scenes work.”
Rory O’Dwyer, sister-in-law Kate, brother Kevin, and Madison of Langwater Farm in Easton, MA.
Another challenge for young farmers is finding themselves socially isolated from their peer group, many of whom live in the city. Farming is a profession with notoriously long hours and, as Adam says, “when something starts at 10 pm, that is like an hour past my bedtime.” Rory echoed this sentiment. “People were really offended when I didn’t want to hang out. They love coming to the farm, they love when I bring food but they don’t like that I spend all my time here.” However, many young farmers have found a way to stay connected with their peers through Eastern Massachusetts CRAFT, a group of beginning farmers that gathers monthly at different farms for a discussion followed by a potluck dinner.
Historically, young people followed their parents’ footsteps into farming, and, as Rory noted, this offered many advantages because, “you had land to come into, you had infrastructure. You had been working on your dad’s farm since you were three or four so you didn’t have a big learning curve.” Because many of today’s young farmers do not come from farming families, they face the dual challenge of gaining skills and raising the capital necessary to start a farm. One approach many young farmers take is to lease farmland: this is what both Adam and Rory do. When Adam first went out on his own, he leased a quarter of an acre to start a small CSA. As he recalls, “It started with three tools I got at Home Depot and my sister and my parents helping me. It has taken a lot of dedication and perseverance to build up the farm.” Rented land certainly lowers the barriers to entry, but it presents farmers with a conundrum: they often have to invest in infrastructure, such as barns, washing stations, and storage areas, to make the farm profitable, but investing capital in land that they do not own requires a leap of faith. While many young farmers hope to one day purchase the farmland that they lease, the steep cost of land in Southeastern Massachusetts makes this a daunting challenge. As Adam noted, “we need farms in Southeastern Massachusetts. We can’t have all the young farmers here going to Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire because that is the only place they can afford.”
Seedlings burst from greenhouse trays at Langwater Farm.
These three farmers share a love of, in Amy’s words, “making food and feeding people.” And, they are willing to work long, hard hours in order to pursue their passion. Their chosen profession has many challenges, but some, including lack of access to capital and prohibitive land costs, hit young farmers particularly hard. However, for anyone who values local farms and the positive impact they have on our communities, it is vital that these young farmers not face these challenges without our support.
The easiest (and most delicious) way to support these farmers is to join their CSA program or patronize them at one of the farmers’ market they attend. Langwater Farm also has a farm stand, which is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm.
If appropriate, landowners can also explore the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ 61A tax incentive program, which gives preferential tax treatment to landowners who commit to using their property for agricultural purposes. With lower tax costs, this land is then more affordable for beginning farmers to buy or lease. At one time, small farms were a vital part of the fabric of the South Shore, and with our support, these young farmers will contribute to the resurgence of such farms. We are all the better off for it.
Young farmer reviews young seedlings.
All three farms offer a CSA program and participate in local farmers’ markets. For more information, please see below: