PESCADERO – Hundreds of young farmers are expected to leave their wet fields early today to gather for some local food, music, workshops and a preview screening of “The Greenhorns,” a documentary about a burgeoning new generation of American farmers.
The Greenhorns is a 3-year-old nonprofit organization focused on rallying young farmer entrepreneurs into an agricultural movement. It has grown out of a film project of the same name by Severine von Tscharner Fleming, a UC Berkeley graduate who is screening her documentary at regional farm events across the country before its public release in 2011.
The film includes interviews from several local young people for the project including farmers from Freewheelin’ Farm in Santa Cruz and Pie Ranch and Blue House Farm in Pescadero. Pie Ranch is hosting the event starting at 3 p.m.
“It’s a really powerful and fascinating world to be involved in,” said Jessica Beckett, a UC Davis graduate student and “market gardener” who toils part-time in a 1-acre parcel on Ocean Street Extension in Santa Cruz. “It’s a cultural movement.”
Beckett, who sells flowers and avocados as La Semenza Farm, plans to attend the event to socialize and gather more information for her thesis on land access and the viability of farming. The harsh economic reality of the business can be daunting for young farmers.
“I see people going into it and they’re not making money,” Beckett said. “A lot of them are getting spit out the other side.”
The organization has already hosted 37 similar mixers across the nation “to create a space for young farmer entrepreneurs and up-and-comers from the nation’s leading agricultural state to hang out, network, share skills and connect with statewide support organizations.” A couple of the events in the Pacific Northwest drew more than 300 people, according to von Tscharner Fleming, who expects an equally good turnout in Pescadero because the area is home to many teaching farms.
“It seems like the community is a prerequisite to progress in our agricultural system,” von Tscharner Fleming said. “Farm by farm, the changes we make in our growing practices and policies that govern the way land is managed – all that community-building happens in face-to-face contact. Greenhorn has done a lot of stuff online. That’s how we’re familiar with communicating, but you can’t get around how in-person time is the center of our culture.”
Although young farmers often don’t own land and often use novel business models, the greenhorn phenomenon is hard to track, but a 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture census found that principal farm operators in California under the age of 35 made up a greater percentage of the total than they did in 2002, according to “The Greenhorns.”
Santa Cruz has been out front of the young farmer movement but it is one of the most difficult places to get established due to land costs and regional market saturation, von Tscharner Fleming said.
“We’re seeing people coming from Indiana and Kansas and New Hampshire to apprentice in California and then leaving and bringing those practices with them to farm elsewhere,” she said
Representatives of several support organizations will be at today’s mixer including people from UC Cooperative Extension, Mendocino Organic Network, Living Lands Agrarian Network, the Center for Land-Based Learning, California Farmlink and Ecological Farming Association.
IF YOU GO …
SCREENING OF ‘THE GREENHORNS’
WHEN: 3-9 p.m. at Pie Ranch, 2080 Cabrillo Highway, Pescadero
WHAT: In addition to a screening of the film, there will be a fibers and dyes workshop, tours of Pie Farm which has worked closely with youth in Santa Cruz, and pizza-making in an outdoor oven.
This article first appeared here.