It’s not surprising that more and more young people have become enchanted with the idea of growing food. Cultivating a livelihood through aligning oneself to the natural rhythms of this world serves as medicine for a soul who has lost contact with its source. Young people these days grow up in an age of connectivity in contrast with severe disconnection. Our wires and communications stretch the globe while our hands are rarely gestured to enter the forest or to press a seed into the Earth.
The virtues of a simple life, lived out in such a way that both the wildlands and human communities prosper, has a beckoning that nourishes those who seek to do good. This way of life not only preserves the incredible heritage of the people who came before, but also protects small pieces of our vanishing natural world. It is dreamlike and idyllic, and yet rendered almost impossible by the innumerable sacrifices the modern day farmer must make to get by.
With 63 percent of farmland on the cusp of transition to the next generation, it is more important than ever to support and nurture the budding interest young people have in growing food for a living. Soaring land and equipment costs, a difficult and biased marketplace, limited income, and the physical and mental stress of managing a working farm make the end goal of being a farmer seem all but unattainable. Individuals who are interested in this way of life come by it to serve their communities and this Earth, to make an honest living and bring harmony between humans and their landscapes. The financial rewards are so limited and burdens so many that we as a society must choose to support these brave individuals with our local economies and through local and national policy.
In 2007, the United States Government deployed the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program aimed to reduce the financial hardship of individuals paying off student loans with Public-Service-Job income. The program has been made to forgive the remaining student loan debt of doctors, teachers, public-interest attorneys, nurses, nonprofit professionals, and government employees who have paid on their loans for 10 years or more. This program is designed to lighten the load for those who are helping society the most and at the same time encourage more youth to pursue jobs in these fields.
With the number of beginning farmers having decreased 20 percent from 2007 to 2012 and with only 6 percent of farmers today under the age of 35, the National Young Farmer Coalition wants to know why farmers are not included on the list of public service jobs scheduled to receive debt relief.
The National Young Farmer Coalition is an organization that aims to support young and beginning farmers through representation, mobilization, and engagement both in the practical needs of the modern day farmer and through the monitoring of political policies that affect the farmers’ everyday lives as well as their ability to make a living.
Through a nationwide network of farmers, consumers, and advocates, the coalition provides resources that give those who work the land the power to stand up for themselves and gives them a voice on Capitol Hill. The Coalition recognizes farming as a public service for three specific reasons: Farmers meet the population’s most basic need, the need to eat, they steward almost a billion acres of land in the United States, and they provide jobs for locals in rural areas. After surveying 700 members and supporters, the Coalition found that on average, the student loan debt carried by each person to be $35,000. With 30 percent of these individuals not even able to farm due to their monthly student loan payments.
So how can you give your support to this important cause? The National Young Farmer Coalition has worked tirelessly to prepare a report to include farmers in the list of jobs associated with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. They have put together an easy to use online messaging system that will deliver a thorough and well written message concerning farmers’ inclusion in the Program to your local representatives.
If you are a farmer, you may complete a survey to indicate how much student loans have affected your ability to make a living as a farmer. Along with a collection of other resources concerning the management of student loans and an awesome T-Shirt, the Coalition has given farmers, advocates, and consumers the opportunity to support the future of local food.
If you believe that farmers are providing a public service, make your voice heard. Spend your dollars at the farmers market and tell your representatives that you value what your local farmers do for your family, community, and local economy. Become a Member of the National Young Farmer Coalition and add your name to the list of individuals willing to stand up for the preservation of farmers and farmland alike.
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