Current trends in American agriculture including the loss of family farms, an aging grower population, global competition, industry consolidation, and increasing distance between the point of production and consumption have led to concerns about food security, the health of rural communities, and economic and environmental sustainability. A concomitant increase in the importance of direct marketing, consumer demand for products with ‘embedded’ characteristics, and the number of small farms on the urban fringe, present an interesting counterpoint to these developments. We believe that the entry and activity of new (first-generation) farmers is important both in countering aspects of this first set of trends, and in the development and cultivation of the latter set. At a time when many existing farms are struggling, the knowledge and resource barriers facing new (first-generation) farmers are particularly acute. Despite these challenges, there remains a contingent of committed individuals choosing to go ‘back to the land’.
Often limited to small farms lacking extensive technological resources, these growers have developed innovative and diverse approaches to production, marketing, and other aspects of the farm system. Their unique experiences and experiments may be instrumental in developing an alternative agricultural model for family farms unable to compete with large scale and foreign producers, and constitute an important cultural resource for promoting healthy communities, healthy eating habits, environmental sustainability, and social dialogue about food related issues. Through the use of in-depth interviews and participatory observation, our research focuses on understanding of the motivations, learning processes, challenges, innovations, and resource needs of this unique and important sector of the agricultural community. We believe that the information generated through this process will prove useful to educators and policy-makers seeking to facilitate the development and success of new farmers, and will provide an important resource for individuals considering farming careers, as well as existing farmers seeking to diversify and improve their operations. In addition to these practical goals, our holistic approach will help to develop a theoretical understanding the relationships between different aspects of the farm system, including its connections to community, nature, and the global food system.
Please check out some of our research results contained in the posters viewable under the ‘New Farmer Research’ Tab in the navigation panel on this website. All feedback is appreciated (firstname.lastname@example.org).