Lindsey Shute started farming in an unlikely place: Brooklyn.
"After graduating college I met my husband as part of the community garden movement, at a rally in front of city hall, and we built a garden together," she says. And after the garden, their lives continued to grow together and now include two young daughters, a 70- acre farm, and the 10,000 member National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) Shute co-founded in 2010.
"We joined a CSA (community- supported agriculture) when we got together, then he moved up here to start farming." For the first six years, Ben farmed on a rented piece of land. Shute studied environmental policy at Bard College, got a job with the New York City nonprofit Transportation Alternatives, and finally made the permanent move to the Hudson Valley in 2005.
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Champion of change
The two recognized the struggles they were facing were shared by a whole generation looking to get involved in smaller scale agriculture. "I...started wondering why young farmers couldn't be better organized," Shute explains of how she came to start YFC, for which she received a White House Champion of Change award in 2014.
"According to the last agricultural census, for each farmer under 35 there are six over 65, and the average age of farmers is 57. The USDA expects that one quarter of all active farmers will retire in the next 20 years. Yes, it's true that new farmers will have limited income in their first years as they learn how to farm and develop their products, market, and customer base.
Many farmers and their partners will need to work off-farm to make ends meet, and affording health insurance is a major issue; I know this firsthand. "But farming is also a career with significant advantages. It's an opportunity to work independently and creatively as an entrepreneur, feed a community high-quality, ecologically- responsible and humanely-raised food, eat well at home, and spend many hours outside, breathing fresh air.
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Now, as a mom, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to raise our daughters on a farm." Ben's busy season is the summer, whereas hers is the political season when Congress and statehouses are in session. "During the farm season, the girls and I get up after their dad is already out in the fields with the farm crew.
He comes back in for breakfast and then we get going to school," she explains. "During the summer, we'll often spend the late afternoon in the girls' garden or in our CSA pick-your-own in search of dinner ingredients. I'm usually on duty for baths and tooth brushing, as this is when Ben does his last chores of the evening and puts the chickens to bed."
Alongside its 25 acres of CSA-sponsored vegetables, the Shutes' Hearty Roots Community Farm contains a special family garden just for 5-year-old Piper and 3-year-old Eleanor. That's because their parents understand how big the rest of the operation can seem to a youngster. And, the 60-plus varieties of veggies grown at the farm are the draw for the 600-plus members of the CSA.
A farmer’s life
Shute notes how farm life, which was once seen as less social than town or suburban living, is richer than she'd suspected; from the earthy traditions to the camaraderie farm families feel for each other, including older farmers who act as mentors to the Shutes.
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"Our favorite family activities are picking apples from our old orchard on the farm, riding around in the farm truck, gardening in the girls' garden and eating pancakes on Sunday mornings," Shute says. "We also love hosting CSA parties at our farm." Is she happy to have something to stick with forever now, and pass on to her children? "For me, parenting is the ultimate teacher of empathy," she says. "But my girls have unique abilities, and I'm learning that I need to follow their lead to help them grow."
Paul Smart is a father who writes for a variety of publications in the Hudson Valley. He lives in Catskill.