Book review: Greenhorns


Greenhorns: 50 dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement
Edited by Zoë Ida Bradbury, Severine von Tscharner Fleming and Paula Manalo
Published by Storey Publishing

A few years ago, a young graduate and aspiring farmer with the spectacular name of Severine von Tscharner Fleming began profiling new American farmers. What began as a documentary film project has, in the ensuing years, grown into a thriving network with the mission of recruiting, promoting and supporting a new generation of agrarians. Drawing on the diversity of their members, the Greenhorns network utilises “avant-garde programming, video, audio, web content, publications, events, and art projects that increase the odds for success and enhance the profile and social lives of America’s young farmers.”

North America, like Australia, has an aging farming population. As a majority of farmers drift into their late 50s and early 60s, the absence of a new generation of aspiring farmers taking on the responsibility of food production has furrowed brows in farmers’ organisations for some years. The recruitment of “millions of rough and ready protagonists of place to care for our ecosystems and serve our country healthy food”, a “critical meeting of minds, bodies, and land”, forms the foundation for the Greenhorns work, it is not just a new crop of farmers they seek. Rather, it is the transformation of the food system into one that nourishes communities through a model of farming that is ecologically sound, locally-focussed and small(er)-scale.

While the spectre of an aging farming population lingers in the background of the Greenhorns work, their greatest tool has been to cultivate inspiration through stories. While their website is rich with practical resources and research, rather than beating the populace over the head with the miseries of the industrial food system, through their film, art projects, events, and now their book Greenhorns: 50 dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement, the Greenhorns celebrate the experiences of farmers, celebrate the exuberance of productive labour, of constant challenge, of the transformative magic of rearing plants and animals, of the community connections that form through the sharing of good food, and of the spiritual and creative nourishment that comes from working with the land. The compulsion to participate in this kind of social change is not because you have to, but rather because you want to.

It’s perhaps an indicator of the nature of the movement that so many of the book’s contributors have come to farming through non-formal education. Many hail from cities, arriving in farming via accident, activism or an unexpected yearning for life on the land. Most follow a path not through traditional university degrees but through internships, apprenticeships and programs like farming incubators. At an incubator, aspiring farmers cultivate adjacent plots of land, developing their enterprise under the mentorship of established farmers while drawing from a common pool of labour and tools and collectively selling their combined harvest.

Greenhorns compiles contemplations, advice and stories from the beginning farmers on the eight broad themes of Body, Heart and Soul, Money, Land, Purpose, Beasts, Nuts & Bolts, Ninja Tactics and Old Neighbours, New Community. The collection offers both practical advice on key themes for aspiring agrarians such as non-conventional land access and the thorny issue of purchasing property, as well as broader explorations of the potential for farmers as agents of social and political change. Leavened by a hearty collection of practical resources and links, Greenhorns is an important contribution to cultivating inspiration and motivation for aspiring and established farmers to work for the transformation of both their landscapes and communities.



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Filed under community, diy, food, gardening

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