Quackers, quackers. You’d think I’d check my student loan payment monthly or my balance, but I don’t. It’s set on auto pay. It’s in the 190,000 range. I know that for sure. Oh, 210,000. It’s more than what do you thought. I don’t know why that number should freak me out but it doesn’t. It’s fake money in my mind, fake money. [MUSIC] Here goats, here goats. [MUSIC] After graduating from law school and working in private practice for a few years, Lauren Manning decided to change her life and go into farming. I didn’t grow up on a farm. I don’t have a single farmer in my family. I don’t really know how I got the farming bug. I like being outside in nature, I love working with animals. I’m also a big fan of grass feed beef and learning how to manage pastures, and manage ecosystems. I just love it so much, I can’t really at this point imagine never farming. I farm here by myself right now. This is Dorothy, Dorothy is a bottle lamb. Normally, we don’t name all the sheep but the bottle babies usually end up getting names just because they’re almost part of the family while you’re feeding them six times a day. And that’s Denise over there. At no point in our nation’s history have young people graduated from college with such an intense debt burden. And for young people trying to get into agriculture, this barrier is often insurmountable. I have quite a bit of student loan debt. I went to undergrad at University
of California, Santa Cruz. I went to law school at University
of Pacific McGeorge and as a result of both of those, I have over $200,000 in student loan debt. It’s serious, it stresses me out. It’s a huge financial obligation every month. When you’ve got a $200,000 student loan and then my farm is $275,000. That’s close to half a million dollars in debt. I’ve gotten really thrifty at buying things used on Facebook marketplace or Craigslist or things like that. Farming is a labor of love in your first few years and there’s so many startup costs. I feel like I go to Tractor Supply or Lowe’s or Home Depot once a day to get something that I need. Is that all you need today? That’ll do it. Now,the farm is very much an expense, there’s not a lot of money coming in yet. There’s still income,
I’m still selling goats. I’m still selling meat and things like that. The margins are slim, especially now more than ever. Lauren has an array of off-firm jobs. She teaches at the University of Arkansas, and writes for several publications. The teaching job makes her qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. She’s also signed up for an affordable repayment plan, which reduced her monthly payment from over $1,000 to about $370. But even that is too steep for her. If I had that 370 in my pocket, I wouldn’t go out and spend it on silly things. I would invest it in this farm, I would pay for more fencing. I’d put it in a rotational grazing system like I want to do, it would make a huge difference. Lauren bought her farm in December 2018 with the help of a federal program that subsidized her down payment. This farm is 32 acres, right now, I’ve got 37 goats, and they are meat goats, a few head of cattle. And then a few head of sheep, not a ton, and then, I just got into ducks. It a blank slate, there’s no corral, there’s no handling facilities, there’s no barn. To pay off the student loan debt, Lauren is relying on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. It will erase her debt after she teaches for ten years, and makes 120 payments. So the first thing I do is I’m
an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas. And then I also am a freelance journalist, I write for Ag Funder. I also write for Food Dive, Grocery Dive and Restaurant Dive and then I freelance for Successful Farming. In our survey of 700 farmers around the issue of student loan debt, we found that almost 60%, either couldn’t start farming because their student loan debt. Or are having trouble growing their businesses because of their student loan debt. The US desperately needs new farmers. The average age of farmers
is approaching 60. And farmers over 65 out number farmers under 35 by more than six to one. So, we need more farmers to enter careers in agriculture and student loans are preventing them from finding success. Lauren met veteran farmers, Ann and Ron, on a farm tour four years ago and decided to become their apprentice. Neither Ann, nor Ron thinks their children will take over their farms. Ann and Ron are like a second set of parents to me. I was so hungry to learn how to farm, I was a total sponge, and so anything they would tell me, I would just cling to. Lauren showed up one day and now we can’t get rid of her. She’d ask a few questions and expected a few answers, and she didn’t get any, so she keeps coming back wanting answers. We do have a lot of people that say can we come out to the farm? We always say yes, and very few people show up. So the fact that she came out every day, I think that was a surprising thing, was that she seemed so motivated to see how much she could learn. And she did, she learned it so fast. Lauren often helps Ann and Ron with their deliveries in Fayetteville. Not too bad, I got a ton of beef for you. [LAUGH] See you in a minute, bye. Thank you for bringing this to us. Of course. Perfect, what a deal. That’s flattering for us. We’ll post about it on Facebook and Instagram, Sliders back in action. Please do. That’s right. Thanks guys, see you soon. No thank you, have a great day, Lauren. You too. It’s very important for me to have young farmers coming in because we have worked really hard to develop the Ozark pasture beef business. And I hate to see that business just disappear when Ron and I decide that we no longer want to be part of it. So we have looked for young people to come in who would be interested in being part of this business. It’s difficult to find the student
loan debt to me is really terrible. When I was a freshman, my first year of college, my tuition was $75. [MUSIC] I talk about how stressed I am to my friends and family, and especially my boyfriend. And I always realize when I hear myself talk that, Lauren this is all self-inflicted. You chose to farm, you chose to create this career path that didn’t exist for you. And in some ways, I’m very proud of myself for that, to be brave enough to
see if I can make this work. I would farm even if I didn’t make money from it and I never ever resent the fact that I had to jump through so many hoops to get this farm. Because I look out my window everyday and I think I’m so lucky to have this view. I’m so lucky to have such a big piece of nature when so many people can’t even afford to buy a house in the city. [MUSIC]