‘Foodtopia’ and the fifth wave: Maine’s millennial farmers stand on the shoulders of their forebears

Port Clyde author Margot Anne Kelley said her new book, "Foodtopia: Communities in Pursuit of Peace, Love & Homegrown Food," was inspired in part by a curious pattern she first noticed while shopping at area farmers' markets over the past several years. Kelley, a retired academic and editor of online literary journal The Maine Review, said nearly all market vendors were from the millennial and baby boomer generations, with practically no farmers from her own cohort, Gen X.

After some digging, Kelley came to identify five back-to-the-land movements that she would explore in her book: the 1840s wave, led by luminary naturalists like Henry David Thoreau; a second wave around 1900; a third in the 1930s; the counterculture-driven fourth wave of the '60s and '70s; and the current fifth wave, spearheaded by millennials. The back-to-the-land impulse to live lightly, self-sufficiently, and in harmony with the environment doesn't actually skip generations, Kelley found, but ebbs and flows depending on the country's economic and social circumstances. And as Gen Xers were coming of age in the 1990s, circumstances at the time made it easier for them to settle into conventional jobs than to break away from society and start farming.

"The modern back-to-the-land movement is really something different, and it's pretty exciting," said Charles Baldwin, a project manager for the Maine Farmland Trust. Baldwin grew up on a communal farm Down East, where his parents and their peers were motivated in part by their distaste for capitalism.

"These kids don't hold that same animosity toward money. They see it as a valuable tool," Baldwin said. "And there seems to be a commitment to doing agriculture in as healthy a way as possible, and also to succeed financially, and that's going to mean these farms are going to make it."

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