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Will this Farm Bill do enough for young farmers?

Photo by Tracy Potter-Fins, taken at County Rail Farm.

By the time the next Farm Bill expires in five years, 125,000 American farmers will have retired. This fact may well be the biggest threat to national food security, but you wouldn’t know it if you’ve been following this year’s Farm Bill hearings.

Instead, the conversation is about “managing risk” for the Big Five commodity crops (i.e. crop insurance, subsidies, and margins for large agricultural interests) and not about the challenges to our food system as a whole. The recent House Committee on Agriculture’s Farm Bill “Field Hearings” were dominated by established farmers, with little if any time for new farmers to talk about their needs. Here in New York’s Hudson Valley, a group of beginning farmers considered a trip to the Saranac Lake to participate in one of these hearings, but decided against it when we learned that there would be no time to add our experiences to the chosen panelists. Beginning farmers like us didn’t fare much better in similar Senate hearings.

That’s why it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the needs of the next generation have yet to be met in the current draft of the Farm Bill, recently approved by the Senate Committee on Agriculture.

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Whippersnappers unite: Young farmers work to change 2012 Farm Bill

A group of young farmers visiting Sen. Olympia Snowe's office in Maine.Across the U.S., young people are heeding the call for a more just, sustainable, and healthy food system, and are heading to the fields to build it themselves. They are working on farms and starting their own small-scale farm businesses from scratch. But, as the National Young Farmers' Coalition recently revealed, there are big obstacles getting in the way of these green entrepreneurs -- and the change eaters want to see on their grocery store shelves. Last month, the Coalition released the results of a needs survey of 1,000 …

Read more: Farm Bill, Food

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How the next farm bill could plant a new crop of farmers

Microloans could encourage young people to become farmers.Photo: Chewonki Semester SchoolUSDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently called for 100,000 new farmers -- a recognition that the U.S. farm population is aging rapidly. To create a revitalized, sustainable, and socially just food system, we need to cultivate a new generation of farmers -- and quickly. But starting a business takes cash, and a farm is no exception. For beginning farmers, the ability to come up with enough money for things like rent, tools, fencing, animals, and feed is likely to determine whether they'll be in business at all. In an ongoing survey …

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