20 January, 2014
From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.
The United States is one of the world's leading agricultural powers, but few Americans are farmers. One recent study showed just two percent of the population with the job in agriculture. Yet, small farms seem to be appearing in many areas to meet a growing demand for locally produced food. The people operating these farms often have little or no experience in farming.
Mark Mills once worked as a pastry chef. He decided to leave his secure job and turn to farming. He says his decision was based on two things - a strong interest in agriculture and his ignorance about what it takes to be a farmer.
Mark Mills was a history major in college, all he knows about producing food comes from growing plants in his home garden and 26 years of working in restaurants.
So why did he become a farmer?
"Well, it's beautiful. Why wouldn't you want to come to work here? I'm my own boss. But really, it's my love of food," Mills said.
In recent years, many Americans have developed a taste for fresh locally grown foods and vegetables. The number of farmers' markets has increased over 50 percent in the past ten years.
Federal, state and local governments believe now is the time to create jobs and new businesses. Mark Mills was one of four people accepted in the New Farmer Pilot Project in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Sarah Miller works with the local Department of Economic Development. She says the program has worked better than many people expected.
"Boy, we didn't even know how many we would get. We thought maybe one or two would be great, but I don't think that we expected four," Miller said.
The project provides the new farmers with specialised business training, like marketing and business planning.
"They provided the connection with the landowner, so I could actually have the land to farm on, which is key. Then, certainly, they provided the financing for the deer fence and the irrigation, some basic things to get going," Mills said.
The program links the new farmer with an experienced one. For Mark Mills, that person is Woody Woodroof, he works at the Red Wiggler Farm in Maryland.
"The big thing to work with him on now is season extension, helping him to do the things that will allow him to harvest crops deeper into the fall and early winter," Woodroof said.
Mr Mills' first year in farming was successful. He produced about 450 kilograms of turnips, 90 kilograms of carrots, and 130 kilograms of green leafy vegetables.
The hardest part was not growing the crops, he says. The problem has been selling them. Mr Mills says, his farm probably lost more money than it earned.
Luckily, his wife has a non-farm job, and can provide financial support, at least for now. Experts say many new farmers need to support themselves with another source of income.
And that's the VOA Learning English Agriculture Report. I'm Bob Doughty.