“The right to bear farms” — more on the Greenhorns and their founder

This excerpt is from The Ethicurian blog where it is titled “The right to bear farms: Severine von Tscharner Fleming, young-farmers champion”:

Rural Chic: Severine, as she appeared in the NY Times style section, along with six other Food Fighters.

Rural Chic: Severine, as she appeared in the NY Times style section, along with six other "Food Fighters".

“Editor’s note [from the Ethicurian]: Severine von Tscharner Fleming first inspired me back in 2006, when she was just an undergraduate activist at Berkeley. Since then, this wild-haired, scabby-shinned force of nature has been featured in the New York Times several times and elsewhere for her work trying to grow a new crop of farmers for America.

Here are some of the many projects Sev and her able volunteer interns are nurturing:

Now, Severine and her cohorts have themselves begun farming in the Hudson River Valley. They’ve dug 1.2 acres by hand, planted 3,328 marjoram plants and 16 kinds of lettuce, and are raising 2 piglets, 23 chicks, 28 laying hens, and 4 Muscovy ducks. They’ve also started a farm blog. I asked Sev’s permission to reprint this rally cry she emailed to friends recently.

The farm of Severine and her cohorts in the Hudson River Valley.

The farm of Severine and her cohorts in the Hudson River Valley.

By Severine von Tscharner Fleming

Almost two years after its founding in a basement in Berkeley, California, The Greenhorns has matured from an idea for a recruitment film into a potent, and slightly famous national community of young farmers.

We are now happily rooted on my first commercial farm, Smithereen, on rented land in the Hudson Valley of New York. In the autumn of 2007 we officially began seeking out mentors and characters for a film, traveling the country with a confident intuitive sense of an emerging movement of young farmers, a series of borrowed cameras and generous cinematographers. On the road for these two years, we happily conclude it to be so. Scrappy, resourceful, adaptive young Americans have brought the products and the spirit of this movement into the sun, and we are proud to be the reporters of its successes and a hub for a much-needed cultural conversation. About production. About direct action. About biomass. About retrofit.

This is America, and it takes all kinds. All over the country we have met enterprising, hopeful greenhorns: descendents of family dairies, punky inner-city gardeners, homesteaders, radical Christians, anarcho-activists, ex-suburbanites, graduates with biological science degrees, ex-teachers, ex-poets, ex-cowboys. The sons of traditional farmers, the daughters of migrant farm workers, the accidental agriculturalists, and the deliberate career switchers all mark our maps. In foothills, warehouses, back valleys, and vacant lots they are popping up as we reclaim human spaces in the broad lazerland of monoculture that has engulfed rural America.

This Obama spring finds the young farmers as unlikely poster children of a new zeitgeist. Aptly so. Ranging around the country in my filmmaking, I have met hundreds of new and aspiring young farmers. I have found them a powerful, proud and wily sub-culture. I have found them to be charismatic icons of change, patriots of place, sensible and sensitive stewards of land and resources. They are the creators of a retrofit future, and just in time. We now have the political change. We have reawakened our democratic will and discovered a dialation in the realms of possibility. We must take advantage of the moment. Yes! We are farming! We are hopeful.

A snap from the Greenhorns Irresistable Fleet of bicycles blog.

From the Greenhorns' Irresistable Fleet of bicycles blog.

The produce of local agriculture is in hot demand with the most loyal of customers. CSAs all have waiting lists, and healthy mothers determined to have healthy babies are fiercely devoted to nutrition and the farmers who provide it. Popular literature and sensibility is gravitating to our message of health for our selves, our soil, our social fabric. I have learned that it is possible for us to succeed, to prosper; meanwhile the market continues to grow!

Farming in America is simultaneously a privilege and a service. And no, it is not easy. Young farmers in America face tremendous structural obstacles. They seek access to land, capital, education, and business training. They seek cultural support and open-minded consumers. They need reasonable paths to acquiring mechanical equipment and other infrastructures of medium-scale agriculture. These are missing components of our culture and our laws, and they are deeply missed by young farmers who are forced to improvise and invent new institutions to serve their new needs and new marketplace.

Severine

Severine

The movement is for real. Its practitioners are skilled, savvy, and ferocious. They are assets to their community and guarantors of our future. They are shovel-ready, shovel-sharpened. Relishers of flavor, recipients of the generosity of photosynthesis. Hellbent on recovering from the age of convenience. They are young farmers with young muscles wisely applying their lives to the problems at hand. But it takes the applied passions of thousands, hundreds of thousands of courageous actions to repair a nation. It will take a radical shift in the structure of the Farm Bill, in the literacy of eaters, in the shape of commerce and land management. It will take the support of you all.

If you are thinking of farming, do!….”

Read the whole thing and see all the pictures on The Ethicurian blog.

and now some fun little videos, again from the Greenhorns’ Irresistable Fleet of Bicycles blog:

See our earlier post on the Greenhorns here.

Food Fighters feature, from the NY Times (source for lead photo of Severine)

Goat roasters, from the Irresistable Fleet of Bicycles blog. See link below.

Goat roasters? -- from the Irresistable Fleet of Bicycles blog. See link below.

Latest update is that a rough cut of the forthcoming Greenhorns documentary on young farmers in America will be screened June 20th in conjunction with a Goat Roast party. Follow link for full details. 

3 Comments

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3 responses to ““The right to bear farms” — more on the Greenhorns and their founder

  1. thebovine

    Breaking news from the Greenhorns’ blog, titled:

    “Farm or Die”

    “So, here it is for your review, the new and improved New Blood For the Old Body, a “Farm or Die” screed for those of you stuck in Accounts Payable or the IT Department or some other place where you know you don’t belong. Join us in the creation of a new agrarian experience…

    ************************

    Many of us never meant to become farmers. We had our ambitions to enter the world as accountants or lawyers or teachers or some other clean, respectable professional. We never really thought about the origins of our food or questioned the intentions of those who screen out the realities of farming; we always knew that the supermarket shelves would fill themselves, food came in boxes or cans ready to serve and farmers were simply one dimensional photographs in the mix of a hot new marketing campaign. Sustainable and industrial agriculture held meaningless differences, no more distinction than competing national brands of light duty trucks or diet soda.

    But then something happened. In the previously steady route of our lives, a shift occurred. The soil moved under us somehow, got stuck in the creases of our pants, in the ridges of our shoes, in the lines of our palms. Suddenly white picket fences, situation comedies and mutual fund returns didn’t seem so interesting anymore. The big ball game and the driving range became distractions from the reality of a new love affair. We got hooked on the possibilities of growing our own food and also providing that food to others.

    The epiphany was likely different for many of us. Maybe a friend took us to a farmers market. Maybe someone had a plate of local hamburgers or collards at a picnic. Maybe the news of some global food disaster made us question the monocultures piled high on our plates. Maybe a real life farmer entered our life.

    For a few of us, those with farming in our past – a childhood spent in the fields of the big farms or the family plots, throwing rocks into the hedgerows for little or no pay or watching over milking machines in the stench of industrial sized barns – there was no love, no kind of encouragement, no appreciation for our part in the dynamics of food production. We were simply limbs and calluses then, small gears in a giant cranking clock. We left the farm to pursue something else only to be pulled back hard when it became apparent that we could abandon everything that farming once meant to us. We could make it ours.

    Still others came to farming from DIY and anti-authoritarian backgrounds, building urban community gardens or putting up food in anarchist collectives. Gardening always had a community aspect to it, but we wanted something more. We knew that we could do the work, that we had the right vision and skills. We just needed the access and the resources to get started.

    Regardless of how we arrived at this point, here we are; we will call ourselves farmers from now on. We are transplants from cities, dropouts from university systems and ex-corporate shufflers. We are mothers and sons and grandparents, masters in communications, colorful documentarians, shy propagandists. Most of all, we are teachers and students inhabiting the same bodies and breathing the same air.

    Our young and new farmer movement is made up of many itinerant folks, traveling to places we want to see, gaining knowledge we never thought we would need and forming the basis for our own theories on agriculture. Our commonality with the landed and the stable is the soil and its layers. More specifically, our bond is in the ways we approach that soil and our desire to grow food in a way that builds on a sense of the farmer never dying. The immortality is not functional but symbolic – if you imagine that you will need to use a piece of soil forever, you will never intentionally do it harm.

    This intentionality is not a new idea, but neither is it very well known in the information age. It is buried in our collective past, not necessarily waiting to be discovered, but intact and beckoning nonetheless. To get to the guts of it, we are throwing away the agricultural methods of our parents and grandparents, even subverting our great-grandparent’s proud thoughts of survival amidst the coming surpluses. Things may appear as cobbled together bits of dust and weight and worn out shovels, but its functionality in an agrarian way of life is apparent with very little inspection.

    We stand in the books and plots and ideas of the past, pulling out the rusty pages and diseased cells in order to build something practical from the obsolete and misinterpreted, rewiring the seed catalogs, rewilding the crosswalks, reconnecting the pastures to the kitchens.

    So here we are, doing more than is required of us, daily pushing the boundaries of our bedtimes, our muscle structure, our hunger pains, our balance of minimalist living conditions with the reality of satisfying relationships. We don’t need justification for living this life, but that rejection of validation won’t feed or shelter our families or protect our chickens from roaming dogs. We have concrete needs – access to land, to capital, to markets – but we cannot ignore the bounty before us as we seek to satisfy these needs.

    We have to live farming as it happens, at our level, at the pace that we can move. The weeds don’t and won’t pull themselves; the new beds won’t magically appear out of spilt potting mix or the crumbs of a quick dinner of sandwiches among the paths. Anyone who tells you that growing food is simple is a lunatic. Anyone who tells you that having animals lessens the physical workload is a liar. But we stick the possibilities of a simpler, easier way of life in the context of the larger ecology, the massive inebriation that defines the world and my generation. If we are to sober up, we need to get moving.

    We are bridging eras, going about tasks the hard way but with newer tools and even newer outlets, burrowing into ancient methods and supplementing with our own big-brained flourishes. A generation of reclamation, telling our story to groups of people that may have never been inspired to so much as think about how a piece of grass might pop from a crack in the sidewalk. The whisper is that we are here to exploit those cracks, get our dirty fingernails scratched with asphalt and debris while attempting to save the disorientated souls of the material apocalypse. We young farmers have the double task of growing food for the community as well as being able to communicate about the process and our decisions in spaces that are new and possibly uncomfortable.

    The pictures we take of ourselves hang in art shows and stand out in glossy magazines; our recipes are printed on cardstock and handed out at tradeshows; our words bring excitement to readers wishing that they too could participate in the riot that is small scale sustainable agriculture. This riot exists outside the handshakes and millionaires of the agra-political grease machines, knowing, with the certainty of the tides, that the transactions we despise will occur no matter how long we scream, no matter how far we march, no matter how many letters we write. It is not defeatist or abandonment of the successful tactics of the past, just recognition that we can do much better with the actual actions of farming in sustainable ways, demonstrating to the consumers and wholesalers and value-adders that we are successful despite their dismissals. We cannot change the culture without changing the culture; yelling and otherwise carrying-on never has set a sweet fruit or fed a piglet, and I will bet it never will.

    We love this life – we have to – but sometimes we can feel that we don’t own it, that it owns us and grips us in a way that will never shake us loose. In those moments of weight we can only shrug, pull on the rubber boots and move deliberately until the fireflies speckle the whippoorwills’ breaths. Throughout all the highs and lows we can look at ourselves over and over again knowing that, if we stick to our ideals, we can do noble and appropriate work no matter what happens.

    We are the new blood in the old body.”

  2. thebovine

    Further to the theme of this last essay, a farmer friend of mine once mused to me about how farmers in the spring feel an elemental need to get seed into the ground, almost not caring whether they’ll make a profit on it or not, as though the survival instinct of the whole human race finds expression through their will and their hands. I think there’s something to this, and I see it echoed in the work of the Greenhorns.

  3. Michael

    Dear Bovine

    You are so right on with your observation of farmers feeling the sense of urgency to plant seeds. It is like an addiction but based on the cycle of the season.
    That makes farmers perfect targets for those who squeeze blood out of stones in order to make money.
    Farmers are predictable addicted and keep going and going, and going, and going, and going making others rich and loosing their own shirts.
    Yes we need to wake up before we loose another part of our culture: Those who nurture the soil.

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