New applications for the Biden Administration’s Student Debt Relief Program are still not being accepted in response to the nationwide injunction ordered by the 8th Circuit Court to temporarily halt all aspects of the program while an appeals process is completed for the failed St. Louis suit against student debt relief. This decision is hitting young farmers hard, in ways unique to the farming experience.
This was richly highlighted by the eloquent responses I got from Noelle Trueheart, a member from Lakewood, Colorado who identifies as a forager, farmer, activist, artist, model and mother on her farm website. Common Name Farm operates on land owned by a private elder. Here is what Noelle had to say, in response to how the hold has impacted her, and her hopes for the future of student debt relief.
“For a brief moment in October when I applied for student debt relief, the promise of some amount of alleviation from the crushing, lifelong weight of student debt was enough to launch dreams of someday actually being able to farm on land that I own. Even though it was only for a few short weeks, it was the first time in my farming career that I even dared to entertain that dream. With my student debt as is, I will not conceivably be able to own land during my farming career, and I plan to do this work that I love for decades to come. Farming is a pleasant lifestyle, a labor of love, and deeply rewarding work, but it is seldom lucrative. Things are tight enough in my farm business, which I started during the Covid-era of federal student debt emergency relief, and with that program’s end looming on the horizon, things are about to get even tighter.
My formal education prepared me for the diverse challenges of farming, but ever since, I’ve felt as if I am being punished for pursuing two higher education degrees. Knowing what I know now, I would have skipped higher education altogether; the setbacks prove to be far outweighing the benefits in my farming career.
[…] I already applied for the student debt relief.
As a farmer living with crushing student debt, I know that I will likely be farming on rented land for the majority of my career. Farming on leased land leaves a farmer vulnerable to so many factors, and renders the inherently permanent activity of farming something that instead has to become temporary and mobile. A farmer pours resources and love into any piece of soil, and to have to find a new spot to farm every few years as leases expire, is devastating, both financially and emotionally. As an urban farmer, my relatively meager rent payments can’t compete with land prices that developers are offering in the urban setting where I farm, so the cycle will only continue as long as I never have the chance to get ahead, financially.
If student debt relief actually happens, I may someday have a fighting chance at being in the financial position to own my own piece of land to farm on.
I own my own organic vegetable farm business and while I eat like royalty, I make a modest salary. I know that in following my passion to feed my community, I will be facing student debt for the majority of my career–if not, all of it–because even minimum repayments get to be a hardship. With $10-20K knocked off of the total, I stand a chance to repay it fully while still in my prime farming years.
During my formative years of vocational training in the field of farming (a subject that was not commonly offered when I went through higher education), I was paid minimum wage. Because of this, I had to forebear on my loans for several years, during which time I accrued interest that rendered the sum insurmountable. As a farmer, I was punished for following my heart to my chosen career path, and continue to be punished as I wonder where my farm business will be 5 years down the road.”
Noelle lives the principle: farming is essential to our public health and our well-being.
We know land is foundational. We represent a generation of farmers who are motivated by the opportunity to orient agriculture toward the realization of justice and a world defined by equitable outcomes.
We recognize the current distribution of land ownership as unsustainable, a threat to our climate resilience, and deeply unjust, and believe that our work as farmers is to repair, enliven, and maintain our connections to land. We must continuously bring forward the means to provide the best and most sustainable outcomes for our farmers, foodways, and to our interconnected communities.
To realize these outcomes in the next five years and beyond, we must see radical, positive change across intersectional issues. We were recently able to see success from the administration with the November 22nd announcement of the decision to extend the student loan payment pause through June 30, 2023 or until 60 days after a final disposition of the lawsuits that are currently blocking student debt relief– whichever is sooner. This followed the sign-on letter to President Biden that Young Farmers endorsed, along with over 200 other collaborating organizations urging for the pause and protection of student debt relief.
So, as we wait for the appeals process to finish and for the injunction to be lifted for Noelle and 26 million other student borrowers who have completed applications so they may feel the promised relief, we remain inspired by and committed to furthering and strengthening our work together. We center the needs of those applicants and the nearly 20 million additional potential applicants, and in so doing push for the supplemental and expanded programs needed by all to reduce the student debt burden–which includes 62% of our Black young farmers and 38% of our young farmers in general—and make the cost of higher education affordable enough to be attained debt-free again for all new students within the United States.