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Eyeing Greener Acres, New Farmers Reap Growing U.S. Aid

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HALLSVILLE, Mo. - Dan Pugh wishes he had a bigger tractor and his wife Laura worries about their chickens in the winter weather. But as new farmers putting down roots in rural Missouri, the Pughs are counting on more rewards than regrets in trading their city lives for the country.

A better quality of food and life are among the factors that caused Dan, 47, to leave a career in sales last year and move Laura, 48, and their two young children to 50-acres (20 hectares) of rolling pastureland they call Honey Creek Farm.

The Pughs will plant their first crop of organic spinach and lettuces in the next few weeks on ground they tilled behind the barn they converted into a two-bedroom home. They are shopping for sheep and hogs. And though their first hives of bees mysteriously died, Laura is determined to develop a successful honey operation as well.

"The whole food and farming system is so out of whack," Dan Pugh said. "We want better and we can do something to help other people eat better."

For those who remember the American TV series, call it the "Green Acres" effect. Fueled by an economic downturn that has curtailed the upward mobility of many corporate jobs, general dissatisfaction with suburban stresses and growing discontent with what they see as the ills of industrialized agriculture, thousands of families across the United States have left suburban cul de sacs and headed to the countryside - forging a new demographic of family farmer.

The U.S. government is not only monitoring the trend, it is encouraging it - backing loans for land purchases and operating expenses as well as grants for seminars and workshops to train people how to be farmers. Government-backed loans to new farmers have more than doubled in the past decade.
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