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Emily Oakley, who had worked on an organic farm in California, moved with her husband, Mike Appel, to Oaks, Okla., in pursuit of cheap farmland. But even though they had $25,000 saved, the couple could not get a bank loan. When they applied for a government loan, the loan officer threw back his head and laughed.
“He’d never met anybody coming in for a loan for an organic vegetable production,” Ms. Oakley said. “He thought, ‘These are young, naïve, romantic, idealistic kids who didn’t know what they’re getting themselves into.’ ”
Similar stories prompted the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, a new group that has grown out of the Hudson Valley in New York, to survey more than 1,000 young farmers nationwide in an effort to identify the pitfalls that are keeping a new generation of Americans from going into agriculture.
“Everyone wants young farmers to succeed — we all know that,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, who oversaw the survey. “But no one was addressing this big elephant in the room, which was capital and land access.”
Ms. Shute’s husband, Benjamin, runs Hearty Roots Community Farm in the Hudson Valley, which delivers seasonal produce to 500 families. Ms. Shute said she hoped that the survey results, released on Wednesday, would demonstrate to the United States Department of Agriculture and to Congress that young farmers, although passionate, have needs that must be addressed.
The obstacles are formidable. At Quincy Farm in upstate New York, Luke Deikis and Cara Fraver say they are living their dream, harvesting cabbage, sweet potatoes and carrots on a 49-acre property on the Hudson River. Still, even after three years of farming, Ms. Fraver, 30, waits tables, and Mr. Deikis, 31, moonlights as an engineer in the film industry, occasionally driving three and a half hours to Manhattan to pay the bills.
Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, appears to have championed their cause. The 2008 Farm Bill included a program for beginning farmers and ranchers, and over the past year, the Agriculture Department has allotted $18 million to universities and extension programs to educate beginning farmers.