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July 22nd, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Farming increasingly popular with young & hip

Editor's Note: For many, the hip thing to do on the weekends is to hit up your local farmers market for fresh organic produce. Now, a surprising number of young and smart people are going a step further. They're ditching the city life to pick up organic farming, and with a lot of hard work, some of them are making a pretty good living. Our Carol Costello introduces us to one such farmer. Watch Video

By Carol Costello, CNN

(CNN) – Every week, at the University Farmers Market in Baltimore, Maryland, 28-year old Roy Skeen sells greens, squash and other vegetables. All of his produce came from his small, urban farm. He planted the vegetables, picked them, and hauled them on his bike to University Market.

It’s not the kind of life he had in mind for himself when he graduated from Yale University in 2004. He majored in History and thought he’d land a job in a minute. He didn’t.

“The story that’s told about Yale,” he says, “is you’re an intelligent person if you go to Yale. But I graduated and I didn’t know how to do anything useful. I could go make green pieces of paper with dead presidents on them, but I couldn’t do anything practical.”

Skeen tried to “do something practical.” He headed to New York to work in investment banking, but he found that life stifling. After a trip to the Caribbean, he found his calling: farming.

“It exposed me to culture that grows food and lives in one place. It was pretty simple, but it was nice and I liked it.”

Skeen moved back to his hometown, Baltimore and is now working the land on an urban farm. He finds the work hard, but satisfying, in an almost spiritual way.

“To me, the magic of seeing a cucumber on the vine, it was like a circle, and my psyche was connected. Here’s something that was in front of me every day of my life and I never knew where it came from.”

Skeen is not the only young person yearning for a simple, more spiritual life. The National Future Farmers of America – an organization kids join in junior high and high school – has seen its membership soar. It now boasts 520,000 members – the most in its long history.

Officials say many young people are rejecting a life in corporate America and choosing to live off the land. They yearn, like Skeen, for a simpler life, a small farm – ten acres or less.

Jack Gurley has lived that kind of life for the past 15 years. He and his wife have a small farm in Sparks, Maryland. They say they make a “nice, middle class living” farming ten acres of land.

“People often say you must work ridiculous hours,” Gurley says. “I don’t even work 40 hours a week. It just so happens that I work 12 hours a day for three or four months a year. But we’re potentially finished at the end of October. So, I have four months off.”

Gurley now mentors young people, like Skeen, on how to make a living from farming. Skeen is grateful. His goal this year is to make $30,000 a year. But, the money is only part of it.

“This was something 80% of the population did 100 years ago. So, it feels like it’s coming home, at least for me.”


Filed under: Living
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Del

    Hats off to Roy...He's an old childhood friend of mine and I'm glad to see him doing something that truly makes him happy. Its funny how so many are quick to judge and find fault with something that they don't see as "normal". God knows I wish I had the motivation, dedication and material sacrifice that Roy has to live that kind of life, but alas, I'm just another salve to the daily grind...maybe one of these days.

    Roy, if you're reading, hope all is well my man, glad to see you're doing well.

    August 2, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
  2. Local Color Flowers

    Looking for urban gardeners in Baltimore that are currently growing or are interested in growing specialty cut flowers to sell to Local Color Flowers-and event florist specializing in the use of locally grown cut flowers for weddings and special events. Seems like most urban farmers are doing produce, herbs, dairy. Anyone?

    July 27, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  3. paul

    nice story but as soon as he falls in love and has a kid the party is over for him (unless the women is a lawyer) because he can never raise a child on that kind of money. he will be back in wall street in no time

    July 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  4. chris

    This very small scale production is called market gardening. Don't mix these people up with your average organic farmer, who hires employees and produces food on much more than 10 acres using a variety of sophisticated ecologically-based techniques.

    July 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  5. Mark Lawrence

    A garden is not just about better food or money. A fresh grown tomato will always make a stranger smile, worm the hart of a friend and sometimes get you out of trouble with a spouse.

    July 26, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  6. Nick

    I completely agree with Greg, I'm still trying to escape from corporate's "profit over everything mentality", but I couldn't come up with anything good yet. Greg, I hope wen can be in touch, I need your help.

    July 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  7. Paul Ronco

    The CEOs of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Bank of America, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, HSBC, Tim Geithner, Henry Paulsen, and Ben Bernanke should all go stick their heads in the ground, water them, and see if they grow. Why anyone would even CONSIDER working for those criminals is beyond me. Oh yeah... and you can grind Bush and Cheney up and use them for fertilizer.

    July 25, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  8. Dan

    The idea of buying local, supporting the Farmers Market, and eating organically grown foods is indeed a noble one. However I must point out that the whole organic thing is filled with miss truths and confusion. If the requirements for growing organic produce include the zero use of chemicals then the farming of something like 10 acres is just not feasible. Organic and green used together is usually not possible. If you buy organically grown produce in the grocery store it was probably grown two or three thousand miles away and transported by a diesel truck. This is true for most areas that do not have a climate for year around farming. The myth of organic containing more or better nutrients is just that, a myth. So before jumping on the organically grown farm wagon get your head out of the dirt, it might contain pesticides, and do your homework.

    July 25, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  9. KBA

    Jake, I agree with you. My generation (Baby Boomers) thought we were going to go against the establishment and help develop a kinder, gentler world but that was not to be. I'm so glad that this dream did not die out with the Boomers but continues on. God Bless him and others like him.

    July 24, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  10. Kevin

    Hmmm... as a history major, he should know that a thousand years ago in medieval England, a peasant was expected to plant and till 120 acres per year -a unit of land called a 'carucate', which consisted of 8 'oxgangs' of 15 acres each- (and of course, they were farming 100% organic too!)
    So with all of todays modern equipment (or at the very least, a riding mower if he can't afford a tractor- lol) the best he can do is 8.3% of what a illiterate, uneducated peasant was capable of doing with a wooden plough and some oxen at the time of William the Conqueror?
    Obviously he's doing something very wrong.

    July 24, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  11. Frank

    Looks like someone from BP photoshopped that picture.

    July 24, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  12. Dani

    And get open-pollinated seeds so you can collect true-growing seeds for next year – there is no food security buying hybrid seeds and worse, Monsanto, where you are totally dependent on a supplier to grow your food needs. For a lower-tech approach to farming, read anything John Jeavons and Ecology Action recommends. It's not true there has to be a huge energy and materials embedment. Jeavons teaches how to grow your own food in the harshest of climates, too. Everyone in America can do this, especially with the rapidly escalating trend toward community gardens in cities.

    July 24, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  13. mike strohm

    This guy is doing something that he loves. If more people followed their hearts instead of their wallets then we would live in a happier world.

    July 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  14. Enth

    so he grows organic crops and lives a more down to earth lifestyle; rides his bike to the farmers market, but is pictured carrying a plastic grocery bag? someone get this man a hemp bag, stat!

    even if you dont start your own farm, gardening is something i recommend to everyone. even if it's just a salsa garden, a small patch of potatoes or carrots, or perhaps some cucumbers or other sqaush. nothing beats enjoying the fruits (or veggies) of your labors at the end of the season. most find it relaxing, it's inexpensive, and healthier than eating over-processed foods.

    July 23, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  15. Violet Stone

    I resent that young people that choose to pursue farming are cast as "New age hippi idealists". The vast majority of farmers are on the brink of retirement. If young people don't choose to grow food, we won't have food on our plates. The high price of land, cost of infrastructure such as barns and equipment, long hours and challenging physical labor make the choice of farming for a young person a very difficult one. We should have the highest respect and appreciation for young people that choose to farm. No farmers = no food. There is nothing 'new age' about it. For more information about starting a farm, visit
    http://www.nybeginningfarmers.org/

    July 23, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  16. Joe

    So the guy will live his little lifestyle without the money to provide his health care or save for his retirement, but when he gets sick or is so old he can't work anymore he will expect the rest of us to foot the bill.

    I wonder if he pays taxes on the money he gets selling his produce at the farmers market?

    July 23, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  17. Katie Donnelly

    I was part of the Americorps NCCC team that worked with Roy this past spring. We got the land ready and did a ton of planting. Roy was an inspiration to me and after I get out of this program I have already begun planning for a small farm of my own.

    Before working with him I hadn't given a second thought as to where the food in the grocery stores come from, but now I do know and wish to do something about it.

    July 23, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  18. Lee Beasley

    My wife and I have been buying organic produce from local farmers at our intown Atlanta organic farmer's markets for a decade or more. Without the idealism and commitments of young, intelligent, and dedicated farmers like the ones featured in this article (and great video), we would not be able to eat as healthily as we do. Over the years we've made friends with the people who grow our foods, and we value the hard work and efforts they make.

    July 23, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  19. William

    When i was younger i did some farming and cattle work. Long, hard, nasty work, but it also brings something out in a man that allows him to feel proud of the work he can do with his own hands. I farmed because i had to. This is a cute story. Im glad hes able to grow some. Seems like hes also trying to make a political statement. You have to have graduated from Yale or Harvard to think like that. Most people farm to make a real living and feed their families. I happen to like many GM foods. Our scientists have made grains with more nutrients, able to grow in very poor soil and withstand bugs much better. This keeps pesticides and chemical fertilizers from being used as much. This has helped stave off starvation the world over. Our Golden Rice being a good example. If we can keep politics and ideology out of farming and use proven science just think how far we can go to feed the world and our own homes.

    July 23, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  20. Ali

    Next time someone says we need illegal aliens to do agricultural work, show them this story.

    July 23, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  21. DON ELLIOTT

    People in poorer countries have been eating organic foods all thier lives. No they dont live in houses or drive cars like in the US and other rich nations, but one thing for sure is they dont have even half of the ailments that plague people in the rich countries. The gods (scientist) have convinced the people in rich countries that the substitutes that they mix up in thier labs are superior to what the Creator made, and now all those chemicals and other additives are probably causing health problems, but since making millions of dollars in profits is more important than the health of ordinary people they wont admit it.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:53 am |
  22. Concerned American

    So let me get this straight, he majored in History and "thought he'd land a job in a minute"? That made blink. History, Philosophy, Communications, English and Art majors should beware that such particular specialties don't necessarily have jobs waiting for them right out the door. I recommend graduate school. Get a master's degree.

    July 22, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  23. Greg

    I actually applaude these people for saying "no" to a corporate or big-money lifestyle. That is one of the problems we face in this country. Everyone thinks that to live a happy and rewarding life, one must make big money...no matter what the consequences are to other people, the environment, or to the country. We need more people like this, people willing to live and work in a Norman Rockwell middle-class "down to Earth" type of trade where creating something or providing a "true" service trumps the "profit at any cost" mentality. I, myself gave up a "corporate job" for a simpler one that allows living: without pressure, the immoral and unethical practices of corporations that they try and suck you into, and the profit over everything mentality. My family is living a more "Leave it to Beaver" middle-class lifestyle, but I have more family time, we have more fun, I am involved more in the community, and everyone is happier....including me.

    July 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  24. Lynn Levick

    The article on "farming incresingly popular with young and hip" was very interesting. There was a FFF reference for farming that I do not remember and would like to check out. Could you email that information please?
    Thanks,
    Lynn Levick

    July 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  25. Matt

    I don't think everyone should quit their jobs and head for the farm, but I think using our land a little more wisely, like getting rid of useless grass-filled lawns, could go a long way to improving our health, our appreciation for food, and our environment.

    It is like a circle

    July 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  26. jake

    thats the best story ive seen in along time...great one...touche to that dude that broke off from society

    July 22, 2010 at 9:43 am |