Building a Future with Farmers: Lindsey Lusher Shute at TEDxManhattan 2013


My guess is that a lot of you in this room
can think of someone in your family who farmed way back. The last person before I came along
to farm in my family was this guy. My great-grandfather Henry Clarkis Sheets. Henry farmed in the
foothills of southeast Ohio where he produced dairy, pork, tobacco, chickens and every fall
he used his team of horses to haul apples for a guy named old man Burdet over Brothers
Hill to Gallipolis, where those apples were floated down the Ohio River to Cincinnati.
This is Henry at the age of 90 running a track with suspenders. Henry worked hard. And he
earned enough to own land, build a farm, build a house and get three of his kids to college,
my grandmother included. Those kids became a teacher, a principal, a gas station owner,
a welder. But none of them farmed. That career path that Henry put his kids on so many years
ago is the same one that 99 percent of us are still on today. For generations, farm
families have been sending their children away from the farm. And for some good reasons.
A dairy crisis, discrimination by the USDA against farmers of color, consolidation, vertical
integration, skyrocketing land prices and plummeting incomes. Life has been really tough
for a lot of farm families. And opportunity outside of the farm has only grown. That’s
why today there are 28 million fewer farmers in the United States than in 1920 when Henry
was farming. And this is in a country with 200 million more people to feed. And because
so many young people have left farming, farmers over the age of 65 now outnumber farmers under
the age of 35 by a margin of 6 to 1. My husband and I are farmers. I’m 34. So I’m one of those
ones. We along with thousands of young people across this country are bucking the trend
by starting a farm operation of our own. These young farmers and ranchers represent an incredible
opportunity for the future of food and farming in the United States. They are cultivating
their crops by hand and with tractors, this is an Alllis-Chalmers G, tractors that haven’t
seen the outside of a barn for 50 years. They are putting their chickens, pigs, cows, goats
back on grass where they belong and they are providing jobs and opportunity in parts of
the United States that have not seen new industry in decades. They are also growing some amazing
food. These young farmers are demonstrating as have many generations before them that
the more a farmer can care for the land the more that land gives back. And not just to
a farmer and her family but to an entire community. This is our farm, Hearty Roots Community Farm.
It’s about 100 miles north of this spot. We grow 25 acres of vegetables and produce eggs
for a community-supported agriculture program. This CSA program feeds 900 households in the
Hudson Valley and here in New York City. Each year our farm grosses about 425,000 dollars.
Most of which goes to local job creation. We hire about 9 employees, some seasonally
some year-round and they in turn take their paychecks and spend them on local goods and
services. We source most of the inputs for our farm locally or regionally and we use
a very small percentage of our budget to pay for fossil fuels. Now compare that with commodity
corn, which actually makes sense as a comparison because it’s what our farm was growing before
we transitioned it to vegetables. Twenty-five acres of corn is going to gross about 25,000
dollars. Half of that is going to be spent on fossil fuels, GMO seed, inputs and only
about 750 dollars is going to be spent on labor. So if Ben and I wanted to create the
same benefits growing corn that we do growing vegetables just in terms of jobs we would
need to grow 5,000 acres of corn. Which happens to be half of the size of our town of Clermont,
New York. And that would be a terrible thing for Clermont, New York because the more farmers
you have maximizing the value of the land the more benefits a community and a region
can experience. As I said before the more a farmer cares for the land, the more they’re
able to care for the land, the more that land gives back. What would our rural areas look
like if we had one million more farms in this country? Like the Salad Garden in Missouri.
Like the West Georgia Cooperative. Like Three Springs Farm in Oaks, Oklahoma. Like Kilpatrick
Farm in Albany, New York. Like Bucio Farm in Salinas, California. Or like Sauvie Island
Organics outside of Portland. Just think of the health, economic and environmental benefits
that these farms would bring to our communities. We need more farmers. We need a million more
farmers. But a million more farmers are not just going to come along. It is not 1920 when
Grandpa Henry was farming. Land is crazy expensive. It took 10 years for my husband and I to figure
out how to buy land in the Hudson Valley. Banks forgot how to loan to us. There is now
something called the student loan, which takes hundreds of dollars from your bank account
every month for decades. Supply chains are in shambles and the federal government is
writing policy to basically perpetuate what we already have. The structural environment
that we as farmers are working in today is essentially the same that has been driving
farmers out of business for decades. In response to the challenges that we as farmers were
facing I helped to co-found the National Young Farmers Coalition. We’re a team of farmers
and consumers that want to see at least a million more farmers in the United States.
And we know that big change is necessary to make that happen. We’re pushing for innovation
in conservation easements to include affordability. We’re reforming policy. And we are doing what
we can to create a permanent home for independent, sustainable, diversified and organic farmers
in the United States. Last year we did a survey of 1,000 farmers across the country. We asked
them, what do you need. And they told us that their number one need is capital. Getting
the money to start a farm is really tough. And of course banks and private interests,
they have a role. Investors have a role to play in all of this. But history teaches us
that getting money to farmers is way too important to leave to private interests alone. That’s
why the federal government through the Farm Service Agency makes very low interest loans
to farmers and Republican President Theodore Roosevelt helped start the Farm Credit Cooperative
in 1908. These institutions can do so much more to help the next generation of farmers
get started. Take the Farm Service Agency. They’re really stepping up. We’ve worked with
them to change their rules to make modern training programs such as apprenticeships
help to qualify young people for one of their loans. We also advocated for micro-lending
by the federal government to farmers. And guess what? They listened. They launched a
new micro-lending program just this January. Super exciting, right? But these are administrative
changes. These are things that the Agency has been doing while Congress has been forgetting
to pass a farm bill. They can only do so much. Actually in the farm bill, Congress, brilliantly,
wrote in there that this Farm Service Agency can only lend up to 300,00 dollars to a farmer
who wants to buy a farm. When many of us in this room probably realize that in a lot of
regions 300,000 dollars is going to hardly buy you a house. And to top it all off this
Agency, this is unbelievable to me, this Agency has no permanent funding the farm bill. So
every year they are at the mercy of the Appropriations Committee and farmers are left to wait on
loan decisions. If you want to buy a farm and no one’s going to lend to you except the
Farm Service Agency, which is the case a lot of times because traditional lenders think
farmers, very risky, which you know can be true, you have to go out and hope that you
can find a farm for 300,000 dollars. Say you do. Then you have to go to the owner of that
farm and you have to beg them to wade with you through months of bureaucracy while you
apply for this loan and just hope that there is going to be a check on the other end. This
is no way for our most important farm lender to have to operate. And it is no way for us
to get this next generation of farmers started on land when we expect that 70 percent of
all farmland is going to be changing hands in the next 20 years. They are more important
than ever. And we have got to help them do their jobs and serve the next generation more
effectively. Speaking of farmland, farmland as you have probably heard in the newspaper
is selling for many more times what a working farmer can afford. We need the land trust
community to step up and work with government partners to create affordable farmland. So
here in Manhattan on this island, you know you have affordable housing so regular people
can continue to live here. Well in our rural communities we need affordable farms so farmers
can continue to farm and own land. And in the Midwest we’ve got to trade some of those
subsidies that are growing megafarms for incentives to help young and beginning farmers get ground.
They need that land. But the National Young Farmers Coalition we are not waiting on Congress.
As I said before they forgot to pass the farm bill in October and the extension that they
passed in January they actually decided I don’t know if Vice President Biden was aware
of this but he and his colleagues cut all training funding for beginning farmers. The
beginning farmer and rancher development program now has zero funding. We are rebuilding local
farmer to farmer networks on the ground. We have coalitions of young farmers that are
forming all over the country. Our Hudson Valley group that I am a part of, we get together
to share a meal, put plastic on a greenhouse and we are now using our combined purchasing
power to bring down the cost of animal feed. So more of the farmers in our group can offer
chickens, eggs, pigs. It’s great. We can work together and solve a lot of these problems.
We are now taking this farmer to farmer model and we are applying it to technology. We helped
to launch a project called Farm Hack, which is farmers, programmers, engineers coming
together to develop open source tools ot help independent farmers stay competitive. You
know the National Young Farmers Coalition, we are getting a lot done. But there is so
much more to do and we cannot do it alone. You know if every single farmer in the United
States joined the National Young Farmers Coalition, which by the way we hope they do, they are
all invited, we would still have less than one half of one percent of the population
behind us. Which is very far from a super majority, right? If we are going to rebuild
American agriculture, provide a path of opportunity for people of modest means to become farmers
in the United States and for us all to feel the benefits and experience the benefits that
all those farmers caring for the land will bring then we need your help. We need you
to figure out how we can get everyone in this country to buy local. To buy locally grown
food and have the opportunity to do that. We need some of you to become farmers. Don’t
know if you’re prepared for that. And we need all of you to put your kids on a career path
that includes farming. And lastly we need you to join with us to tell Congress that
if we invest in the next generation of farmers in the United States we will all win. I hope
that you will join us. We need you to join us. Thank you.

18 thoughts on “Building a Future with Farmers: Lindsey Lusher Shute at TEDxManhattan 2013

  1. The only thing of substance she said was the subsidies that are creating large corporate farms needs to stop. The problem is government policy is against small farms, from absurd regulation to subsidizing larger corporate farms. We need to stop looking for some large government to pay and start doing for ourselves. Like she is doing but at the same time she cries for more govt handouts. All we need the govt to do is level the playing field and get out of the way

  2. Thank you for all the work you do! In my eyes, Farming is the most honorable and important occupation one can pursue!

  3. the reason there are no young farmers it's the same in Ireland is because the older farmers won't retire an by time it's handed down the next person in line is to old to make it worth while investing money into it as they simply won't get it back or anything out of it for there time there

  4. Love herr… More farmers needed to keep food organic for a healthy Future… More farmers less lawyers n politicians…. LOL

  5. When the petrodollar collapses, ciaos will commence. Victory gardens are essential for survival in financial stressed times

  6. Loans are always a risk. It shouldn't be permanent. It makes it more legally transparent. The illegals have driven many of the farmers out and NAFTA! Make Farming Great Again! Ask the Native Americans about how to farm in the desert.

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