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For young farmers: No land, but plenty of climate change to go around

We desperately need more young farmers in this country.

“If we do not repopulate our working lands, I don’t know where to begin to talk about the woes,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan told The Washington Post this April.

The average age of the American farmer is 57 years old and rising. There are but 120,000 American farm operators age 34 and under. There are 1.3 million American farm operators age 55 and older.

In 2009, I picked up a video camera in order to start documenting something that looked hopeful. As if they had seen a poster with Uncle Sam’s pointing finger, young people with college educations -- but absolutely no background in agriculture -- were showing up on small organic farms in my home state of New Jersey, seeking training. In many cases, the self-appointed mission of these young people wasn’t just to farm, but to farm as sustainably as possible. I made a film about it, titled The Farmer and the Horse.

The problem is, at least in Jersey, there’s no straight path for young farmers to follow if their goal is to make enough money farming to actually own the farm. (Farmland prices here are the second highest in the nation.) Land tenure, many of these farmers tell me, is what they want: Not to be rich, not even necessarily to be financially secure, but at least to control their own destiny on a piece of land where the blood, sweat, and tears they shed during the 80-hour work weeks will fall on soil they can call their own.

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Good naybors

New Jersey horse farmers fueled by hay, not oil

Steed for the tillerman: New Jersey farmer Tom Paduano at work(Photos by Jared Flesher) For the past year, I've been following around farmers in New Jersey with a video camera. For the most part, they are young, broke, landless, and optimistic. "I've hit the jackpot. I'm getting rich. I'm farming," deadpanned Aubrey Yarbrough, age 28, on a recent morning devoted to planting potatoes. She was only half kidding. As an intern on an organic vegetable farm near Princeton, she's now bringing in nearly $1,000 per month, double what she made at her farming internship last year. The protagonists of my …

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