Pro-Environment Urbanites Go Rural For Real

<p>For years, hipsters have sported trucker hats and rootsy fashion with a back-to-the-earth vibe. Now, some young professionals are heading back to the farm for real -- and taking their organic, pro-environment values with them.</p>
May 22, 2008, 8am PDT | Tim Halbur
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"Steeped in years of talk around college campuses and in stylish urban enclaves about the evils of factory farms (see the E. coli spinach outbreaks), the perils of relying on petroleum to deliver food over long distances (see global warming) and the beauty of greenmarkets (see the four-times-weekly locavore cornucopia in Union Square), some young urbanites are starting to put their muscles where their pro-environment, antiglobalization mouths are. They are creating small-scale farms near urban areas hungry for quality produce and willing to pay a premium.

"Young farmers are an emerging social movement," said Severine von Tscharner Fleming, 26, who is making a documentary called "The Greenhorns" about the trend.

While this is hardly the first time that idealistic young people wanted to get back to the garden, the current crop have advantages over their forebears from the 1960s and 70s, many of whom, inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog or Wendell Berry's books about agrarian values, headed to the country, only to find it impossible to make a living.

But the growing market for organic and locally grown produce is making it possible for well-run small farms to thrive, said Ken Meter, 58, who studies the economics of food as an analyst at the Crossroads Resource Center, a nonprofit advocacy group for local food initiatives that is based in Minnesota.

"A lot of people in our 20s went to the land and wanted to farm and had a lot of enthusiasm, but not many resources," he said. "It has only been the last five years where the payment from working your fingers to the bone and supplying urban markets with high-quality produce has been enough where you could imagine making a living."

Whether young, first-generation farmers constitute a flood or trickle is difficult to say. But many long-time observers of small farms say they have noticed an increase in recent years among college graduates who want to farm, even if they intern at established farms or rent tiny parcels."

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Published on Friday, May 16, 2008 in The New York Times
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