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Young Agrarians: Digging The Future
Submitted by KAT on Wed, 04/15/2009 - 12:08pm.
Cross-posted from The Green Fork.
Our economic contractions have given birth to a new demographic--the "frugalistas." The rise of thrifty hipsters who get their thrills from no-frill living marks "a re-emergence of thrift as a value," according to the New York Times. From secondhand shops to homegrown crops, penny pinching's taken on a new luster.
Chasing dollars, on the other hand, appears to be passé, thanks to the fiascos that tanked the banks and tarnished Wall Street's image:
We need to "make banking boring again," as Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning New York Times columnist, declared last week. His fellow columnist Frank Rich chimed in with a Sunday op-ed bemoaning the fact that our culture of greed siphoned off "gifted undergraduates who might otherwise have been scientists, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, artists or inventors."
Or farmers, perhaps? We need to make growing food a prestigious profession again, as it was when our country was founded. Thomas Jefferson believed that "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens...As long, therefore, as they can find employment in this line, I would not convert them into mariners, artisans, or anything else."
What Jefferson couldn't foresee is that we'd convert our farmers to fossil fuels. As Bill McKibben writes in Deep Economy:
Of course, that "cheap" energy doesn't seem like such a bargain if you factor in all the disease and pollution that can be traced to our current system of industrial agriculture. But guess what? It's not more efficient, either. As McKibben discovered:
But in order to take the petroleum out of our food chain, we'll have to repopulate the farms. To switch to sustainable, small-scale agriculture will require millions of newly minted farmers. Can we accomplish such a seismic cultural shift? Young people are certainly showing a renewed interest in farming and gardening that bodes well. As Twilight Greenaway noted on Culinate last week:
But, adds Greenaway, the young would-be farmer faces numerous obstacles, two of the greatest being low wages and the high cost of land. Greenhorns director Severine von Tscharner Fleming, the filmmaker/farmer who's out to recruit a new generation of farmers, told Greenaway:
The current reality for young farmers is more uncertain, as von Tscharner Fleming points out:
We are at a critical juncture, here, with profound implications for our future. Defenders of industrial agriculture would have you believe that advocates of small-scale farming are luddites who'd drag us back to an era of drudgery and deprivation. In fact, while sustainable agriculture is based on tried and tested methods of growing food and building soil, it welcomes ecologically savvy innovation. As Bill McKibben notes:
Here in New York City, there's an unprecedented interest in urban agriculture, from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's Food In The Public Interest policy initiative to the Community Agriculture Club at New York University to Just Food's chicken-keeping workshops and petitions to bring back composting and legalize beekeeping. There are frequent permaculture workshops at community gardens, and field trips to farms.
This Thursday, April 16th, there's a Youth Forum & Expo at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, on Food, Farming and Active Living. Sponsored by the Baum Forum in collaboration with the NYC Food and Fitness Partnership, the Youth Forum & Expo is aimed at youths from ages 15 to 24 and is intended to "inspire young people to engage with the kaleidoscope of important issues surrounding food systems and healthy lifestyles, and to empower them with the tangible resources necessary to become active change agents in and around New York City."
And that's just a taste of the real food revolution that's brewing in New York City. Beyond our five boroughs, there are similar events and organizations in communities all over the country geared towards inspiring young people to become engaged in food production, as well as nationwide campaigns such as The Real Food Challenge.
The RFC, a network of college and university students, is campaigning to bring food that's local, fair, ecologically sound, and humane to their campus dining halls, while organizing and training the next generation of food justice activists. As the RFC's Northeast Regional Coordinator, Sam Lipschultz, told me recently:
Move over, Masters of the Universe. Here come the Saviors of the Soil.
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