Are you a recent college grad? Do you fantasize about abandoning your fast-paced unpaid internship for a more simple, fulfilling lifestyle? I promise I’m not trying to usher you into a life of committed Scientology — I’m asking on behalf of the wrinkling face of U.S. agriculture, which is in sore need of younger farmers. The problem isn’t that young people aren’t interested in farming — it’s that millennials, carrying the burden of weighty student loans, simply can’t afford it.
Which is why the National Young Farmers Coalition is launching the “Farming is a Public Service” campaign, asking for an amendment to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to include farmers. The federal program was created in 2007 to help people enter low-income, highly needed positions in education, government, and medicine. The program allows public service workers to make payments based on income, and forgives the balance of federal direct loan debt after 120 payments and 10 years of full-time employment in a public service position. This is a pretty sweet deal, if you qualify.
But should farming be considered a public service? Typically, the public service loan forgiveness program is reserved for services that provide for the public good — jobs like teachers, government employees, and nonprofit professionals. The definition does not include any position that involves manufacturing of goods, which is where NYFC may find trouble. But here’s NYFC’s argument on why farming is a public service:
Agriculture meets on of our most basic needs — producing the food we eat.
Farmers steward nearly one billion acres of land area of the U.S.
Farmers support rural economies, providing jobs and income that have helped these communities weather population decline and the Great Recession.
Definition bingo aside, the U.S. needs to figure out new ways to address its dwindling and aging farmer population. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the average age of farmers is 58.3.
NYFC is lobbying Congress, collecting stories of young farmers’ loan debt, and asking for signatures on a petition. If you answered “hell yes” to my question about farm daydreams, you may want to consider adding your name. If not, there’s always medical school.