In terms of social cachet, agricultural start-ups are a long way from Silicon Valley. But the phenomenon seems to be gaining steam.
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a nonprofit that matches willing farmhands with organic farms seeking temporary help, has become, for the 4-H crowd, what Stanford’s computer science department has been for Silicon Valley. In the last three years, membership in the group’s United States branch has quadrupled, and among a certain set of college-age agriculturalists, the organization has become a verb (as in “Did you WWOOF last summer?”).
Jason Stroud, 44, of Red Hook, Brooklyn, has been raising chickens since he was 19. He said he thinks many newcomers to the sustainable agriculture world are making a high-tech mountain out of a Bronze Age molehill.
“It’s simpler than one would think,” he said of modern-day homesteading. “Peasants with zero education were doing this hundreds of years ago.”
After his regular work, restoring high-end antiques, dried up earlier this year, Mr. Stroud began advertising his farm skills to fad-chasing urbanites: for a price, he would build them backyard chicken coops and teach them to care for the birds.
The offer was so well received that Mr. Stroud estimates that nearly half of his income now comes from chicken consulting. He dispenses advice on a Web site called Red Hook Chicken Guy, where he lists the benefits of chicken farming in Brooklyn. (Reason No. 10: “It’s just a cool thing to do.”)
“It’s a good opportunity for kids who have gone to college with degrees in Hungarian literature that they owe $300,000 on,” he said, chuckling.