How I Became A Farmer (And Why You Should Too!)
In the 8th grade, my school had us take a career aptitude test. I don’t know if schools even still administer these things; it seemed very antiquated to me at the time (about 16 years ago), especially because of the answer I received: that I should pursue a career in farming.
When I got the results of the test back, I took it home to my parents and we just laughed and laughed. A farmer! Can you imagine?!
At the time, I was your typical scrawny, pale suburbanite from middle America with dreams of a career as a computer engineer in a big city.
Why would anyone, I reasoned at this young age, choose such a dirty, low-status career like farming – especially a talented young wannabe engineer like me?
Music became my focus in high school and eventually I lost interest in a computer-related career. By the time I reached college I had few notions of a career at all, which is one reason why I ended up with three bachelor’s degrees – but that’s another story for another day.
I finally settled on ecology as the field that I wanted to pursue beyond college, and by that time I already had big ideas about homesteading and off-grid living thanks to the writings of Scott Nearing. I helped with agricultural research in an ecology lab at school, and even spent a summer volunteering on a couple of organic farms.
But I still didn’t see farming as a viable career option – the farms I had volunteered on were mostly struggling or failing, and though I did consider a career as a researcher for the USDA, I really didn’t want to have anything to do with the world of industrial agriculture.
Instead, after college I worked as a freelance writer for a couple years, writing about music while playing in a loud rock’n’roll band. When I couldn’t make a living at that anymore, I took a job at a local restaurant managed by one of my bandmates. That was around the same time that I first met my partner Brooke.
We started dating right away, and as she and I became more serious in our relationship, we began to talk more about our common dreams of a homesteading lifestyle.
It was something I always thought I would pursue after decades of toiling away at... well, some career that would surely fall into my lap one of these days, right? The more we talked, the more the conversation shifted towards the inevitable: if not now, when?
We made pie-in-the-sky plans to buy land and build ourselves a house, despite the fact that we had zero dollars and zero skills.
I quit the restaurant and set off on a quest to acquire carpentry and construction skills by taking a series of jobs I found on Craigslist. For over a year I envisioned myself in a long-term career as a tradesman.
It wasn’t until I stumbled upon Diego Footer’s Permaculture Voices podcast last year that I really, truly started thinking about farming as a career.
Through interview after interview with successful yet decidedly unconventional farmers (like Curtis Stone and Darby Simpson), Diego showed me that not only was I not crazy for being interested in this kind of lifestyle, but that there were actually hundreds, if not thousands, of people just like me who were already doing it.
This season I’ve been working on a farm as a vegetable gardener, growing chemical-free produce on less than 2 acres with little mechanization, and I couldn’t be happier with the path that I’m on.
My entry-level position doesn’t pay much, but I am gaining a wealth of capital in the form of knowledge, skills, and experience that I will be able to expand upon one day when I’m in a position to start my own farming enterprise.
What’s more, Brooke recently started working there with me three or four days a week, so we get to spend most of our work week pursuing our common passion together.
We don’t have any money to speak of, and the house we live in is a rental, but we are ok with that for now.
We are confident that the pieces will fall into place over time, and there’s no need to rush ourselves towards our ultimate goal. We’re making progress every day, and this is a transitional process, after all, so it’s going to take time.
And that’s my farming story, in a nutshell. So why should you consider a career in farming?
It’s definitely not for everyone – it’s damn hard work, and it will take everything you’ve got. But I believe that many people who would thrive as farmers – particularly Millennials like me – are just never exposed to it in this era, or never encouraged to think about it as a career. That was the case for me, anyway, and I can’t be the only one.
The fact is, the number of active farmers today is at an all-time low – less than 2% of the population, compared with something like 50% a century ago – and their average age sits at around 60 years old.
The former statistic can be attributed in part to the rise of major technological advances that have made it possible for a handful of people to cultivate many thousands of acres; but the latter stat, regarding the average age, can only be explained by the fact that young people simply are not pursuing farming as a career.
According to the USDA, between 2010 and 2015 there were significantly more jobs available in agriculture and food systems, renewable energy, and the environment than there were qualified college graduates to fill them. In an average year there are around 58,000 job opportunities available in the industry, but only about 35,000 college graduates trained to fill them.
Now I’m not exactly advocating for college training in agriculture; I’m not really much of an advocate for college training of any kind, and it’s clear that the toxic and unsustainable farming practices taught by university programs (that might as well be owned by Monsanto, Tyson, etc.) are depleting our planet’s resources and compromising our own health.
But the point is, there is a lot of room in the ag field for innovative young entrepreneurs who are interested in experimenting with fresh ideas and new technology. The industry needs exactly that.
“Conventional” agriculture has devastated the landscape and failed to make clean and healthy food accessible to the masses.
The solution has to come from many thousands of small-scale farmers who aren’t afraid to experiment with new ways of producing food that are sustainable, resilient, and regenerative.
We can shape the future of food production.
What really sets farming apart from other careers is that it requires perhaps the widest array of skills compared to just about any other job you can imagine. Landscaping, gardening, animal husbandry; carpentry, electrical, mechanics; marketing, sales, customer relations; these are just some of the fields that the successful entrepreneurial farmer should be competent in.
If you’re starting from scratch, don’t fret – I started there, too, and I didn’t begin in earnest until age 28. It’s never too late! And the Internet can teach you just about everything you need to know.
But if you can swing it, nothing beats a job as a seasonal worker or intern on a farm that’s already doing whatever it is you want to do. And I can tell you from experience that most of the farms within driving distance of you are probably short on hardworking, motivated individuals who are interested in a farming career. They’ll be thrilled to meet you.
More than anything, farming is one of the only careers I know of that is at once physically, mentally, and spiritually fulfilling. A hard day’s work under the sun does a body good; not only that, it stimulates the mind and nourishes the soul.
Producing healthy food for your community is a sacred act, and it puts you in direct communion with the universal life force that animates and unites us all. Try achieving that from the air-conditioned comfort of a fluorescent-lit cubicle.
So what are you waiting for?
You’ve got the passion, the motivation, and the self-discipline; you thrive outdoors and love being caked in dirt and sweat at the end of a workday; you’re curious, thoughtful, and ready to help lead the way towards a future of regenerative and resilient food systems.
Millennials, twenty-somethings: it's time for us to step up and succeed where the previous generation failed!
Go for it! You’ve got my blessings.
About the Author
Sam Sycamore is a writer and homesteader located in Simpsonville, Kentucky. He helps tend to a small-scale market garden alongside his wife Brooke, while propagating edible perennials and raising chickens in their backyard. To learn more about Sam and Brooke's story, click here. Contact Sam here, and keep up with his daily adventures on Instagram @doityoursammy.