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America's New Agrarians: Policy Opportunities and Legal Innovations to Support New Farmers

23 Pages Posted: 8 May 2012 Last revised: 8 Aug 2012

Neil D. Hamilton

Drake University - Law School

Date Written: March 16, 2012


In this article Hamilton describes the growing interest in farming among a new generation of Americans and makes detailed suggestions for how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and local governments can support policies to help support them. He notes that the interest in farming and local food – especially among the young and college students – provides the nation and policy makers the opportunity to consider the needs of the next generation of farmers and the role local and regional food systems can play. The article explores the identify and motivation of what Hamilton describes as the “New Agrarians” and considers how many of them see the involvement with producing healthy food and building communities as a form of public service.

The article examines why new farmer issues are especially important to the USDA and represent a critical challenge to the success of the department’s efforts to build a strong productive food system. He identifies how Secretary Vilsack has made support for new and beginning farmers a priority and details some of the innovative programs USDA has implemented to support them. He is optimistic that “new farmer issues represent an exciting opportunity to revitalize and re-energize the work of the USDA.” To assist in this progress the article suggests a series of ideas for how USDA can more aggressively promote new farmer issues, including creating networks of new farmer agents in local USDA offices and helping address the costs and economics of new farms.

The article also considers the growing role of state and local food policy councils as a technique for improving the operation of public policy. The article includes a detailed set of ten recommendations for how local food policy councils can integrate promotion of new and beginning farmers in their work. The article concludes with discussion of other innovative policy ideas relating to new farmers, including the “New Farmer Fund” initiative being developed at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center and the “farm school” approach as a way to address labor law issues that can arise in connection with farmer internship and apprentice programs. Hamilton’s conclusion is that increased consumer interest in “healthy food” and the related connection to the expansion of various forms of direct farm to consumer marketing are critical elements supporting real economic opportunities for new farmers.

Keywords: new farmers, new agrarians, food policy councils, healthy food, direct farm marketing, USDA, farm internships, farm school, urban agriculture

JEL Classification: Q00, Q10, Q15

Suggested Citation

Hamilton, Neil D., America's New Agrarians: Policy Opportunities and Legal Innovations to Support New Farmers (March 16, 2012). Fordham Environmental Law Journal, Vol. XXII, No. 3, 2011; Drake University Law School Research Paper No. 12-12. Available at SSRN:

Neil D. Hamilton (Contact Author)

Drake University - Law School ( email )

27th & Carpenter Sts.
Des Moines, IA 50311
United States

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