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The cultural fights between longtime farmers and upstart organic agrarians exist mostly in the minds of city dwellers, an advocate for young farmers says.

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New Film Documents Newest Generation of Farmers

severineorganic.jpg
The cultural fights between longtime farmers and upstart organic agrarians exist mostly in the minds of city dwellers, an advocate for young farmers says.

Severine von Tscharner Fleming -- director of The Greenhorns, a non-profit organization that recruits, promotes and supports the latest generation of farmers, and a documentary film by the same name that's screening this week in Seattle - says farmers of all backgrounds are united by daily responsibilities and ongoing financial challenges.

"It's not us versus them out there," says von Tscharner Flemin, who raises pigs and lambs in New York's Hudson Valley. "We're neighbors."

Von Tscharner Fleming, 30, says her cohorts depend on older farmers for instruction and support. "A lot of people showing up to our events have gray whiskers and gray streaks," she says. But growers who've embraced farming as a tactic for advancing economic reform or environmental stewardship are especially eager to work with young farmers from farming families, she adds.

"Kids who are born on conventional farms are our strongest allies," she says. "They have the land, they can move us forward."

Von Tscharner Fleming points to initiatives such as The Willamette Seed and Grain Project, in which "super punkies" partnered with corporate-held, family-run farms to transition Oregon acreage from grass seed to edible crops.

"People who are lucky enough to come from farming backgrounds often face challenges in the business aspect," Von Tscharner Fleming says. She cites examples of new farmers increasing revenues on their families' farms by taking a "more local orientation, more sustainable orientation."

While young farmers who were swept up in the 1970s back-to-the-land movement could buy land cheaply, Von Tscharner Fleming believes the current rage for local food is helping to keep idealists in the industry. Since dropping out of Pomona College a decade ago to farm, she's watched her friends' farms grow in response to consumer demand. A few of those friends appear in The Greenhorns, a chronicle of young farmers across the country.

"It's an addictive thing," Von Tscharner Fleming says of farming. "Some people try farming for a summer and say 'I love agriculture, but I'm not a farmer.' But the majority get in and they're hooked."

The Greenhorns had its local debut at the Northwest Film Forum on Monday. It screens tonight at The Good Shepherd Center, and will be shown in Port Orchard, Mount Vernon and Vashon Island over the next three days.

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