4 Millennials who have given up riches for farming

Mar 31, 2014 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Given the choice of living in the big city or country life, these 20-somethings chose to be the next generation of farmers.

Medicine, construction management, economics, politics — these were all careers these budding young professionals considered. Instead of choosing the big-city life, however, they chose something less flashy, but so much more rewarding, they say. Meet the next generation of farmers.

The economist turned rancher

Justine Kougl

Image credit: The Montana Ranch Adventure

Justine Kougl grew up in the world of rodeos, so she had general knowledge of the agricultural world at an early age. But until meeting her husband at college, the 29-year-old blogger at The Montana Ranch Adventure says she was nearly positive she would be a human resource director or business manager at some big-name company in the city.

"I have my M.S. in economics with an emphasis in accounting and human resources," she says. "But after meeting him and getting to know his ranching operation on the Cheyenne River reservation, I couldn't imagine living in a city."

She and her husband and their two children are growing corn, wheat and sunflowers in South Dakota and raising yearlings and alfalfa hay in Montana. "Sure, there are challenges, especially with mountain ranch living — when is the next time you may get to town? What about the weather? What if there is an emergency? You balance those challenges out with the peace and serenity of country life, a long, hard day's work and enjoying watching your family work and play together."

Update: In February 2014, the Kougls' ranch was in a devastating fire, and their home burned to the ground. You can help aid their efforts to rebuild on gofundme.

The educational farmer

Damien Appel

Image credit: Native Roots Farm

Damien Appel, 28, started farming with a small 5-by-10-foot plot of tomatoes, and it wasn't long before that small plot of land grew to a 1,000-square-foot garden. Although his career originally led him into construction management and then education, he ultimately turned to organic farming as a way to find balance in his life.

He now operates a not-for-profit educational farm called Native Roots Farm in the small town of Westville, Indiana, about an hour east of Chicago. "I can't imagine living somewhere that exists without nature," he says. "I want to live where I can listen, smell, touch and see without having the intrusions of other people, buildings and traffic. The connection that comes from such an experience is unmatched by the perks of city life."

The aspiring goat farmer

Bethany Micarelli

Image credit: Bethany Micarelli

Bethany Micarelli, 28, had taken all the necessary steps to become a doctor. She was enrolled in college as a pre-med major and was working as a surgical assistant to put herself through college. But then something changed. "I had some life changes that prompted some introspection and re-evaluation of my life," she says.

Growing up in Montana, she always thought about living on a farm, but had an interest in living near Seattle, where the culture was more appealing to her. With the dream of moving our society toward sustainable living and organic farming, Micarelli bought a few goats and started a campaign to raise money to start her own organic dairy farm. (Check out her awesome video here.)

"I love being directly involved in helping the planet, changing the way farming is being done and the way animals are treated in farming," she says.

The advocate

Marie Bowers

Image credit: OregonGreen

When Marie Bowers read an article about how women weren't involved in Big Ag, she wrote a post saying how misleading the article was — and ever since, she has been covering politics, farming and farming issues through her blog, OregonGreen. Though she is a fifth-generation farmer, she originally planned a career in politics.

"Then an agriculture lobbyist mentor told me, 'Go get an ag degree — political science degrees are a dime a dozen,' " she says. She changed her major and graduated with degrees in general agriculture and in agriculture economics and management.

She and her family farm mostly grass seed, as well as wheat and meadowfoam. Bowers, 28, says she is proud to continue the tradition of farming. "Not many folks can say they can trace their roots five generations just down the road."

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