Clippings: Proudly of the farming generation

<p>A year ago, <em>The New York Times</em> reported on the growing number of idealistic college students who spend summers working on organic farms.</p><p>The article described a few different members of my generation. An English major from Kenyon College declared that, after his summer farming, he was finally comfortable with not having been born in the ’60s. </p><p>Then there was an overeager intern in Florida who wanted to report the organic farm she was working on to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service for giving antibiotics to sick sheep. Before she filed an official complaint, she thankfully found out that organic farms are, in fact, allowed to use antibiotics on sick animals.</p><p>As the <em>Times</em> piece was eager to point out, there is a certain amount of idealizing — and socioeconomic privilege — at work in this phenomenon of college students summering on organic farms. </p><p>Often toting copies of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan’s widely read critique of industrial agriculture, well-educated students head to farms hoping for environmental and political change. Their idealism can evaporate as they spend long days sweating on a farm. </p><p>Last week, I got to see the summer farming phenomenon in action. A few friends of mine — predictably, recent liberal arts college graduates — are spending the next few months on a farm in Benson, and I drove down from Middlebury to have dinner with them on the farm. </p><p>My friends chose to work on the farm because they wanted a change of pace after college. They’re also motivated by the politics of small-scale farming. I’d like to think they aren’t overly idealistic — they knew they were signing up for 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. days, life outside of cell phone reception and very little pay.</p><p>Before we ate, they showed me around the rows of lettuce, turnips and spinach they had spent the day working on. My friend Eric pulled a few turnips out of the ground for our salad. </p><p>The turnips went well with the lettuce and spinach my friends had also harvested, and after dinner we walked around the farm.</p><p>Like many of the students described in the <em>Times </em>article, I’ve read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and seeing small organic got me frustrated all over again about industrial agriculture. </p><p>Farm subsidies and cheap oil make it impossible for this farm to generate meaningful profits compared to industrial ag operations, regardless of how efficiently the farmers run their operation. </p><p>Before the farmer bought the property, it was home to a derelict dairy operation whose owners had polluted the property with large piles of manure, left the soil in bad condition and simply bulldozed in buildings that had fallen apart.</p><p>The soil was now healthy, and — although my friends occasionally find leftover veterinary syringes in the ground — there’s wild grass in the areas that aren’t farmed. </p><p>I felt like I was reading the nature writer Wendell Berry — the family farm had improved the land. </p><p>After the sun went down, we watched fireflies over the farm. I’d never had time to appreciate them before. I’m from California, and I’m usually caught up with exams at Middlebury College the time of year fireflies are out.&nbsp; </p><p>It all did feel a little clichéd. Here I am, a city kid, in awe of fireflies and talking Michael Pollan. </p><p>But I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with this cliché. </p><p>I know people from very different backgrounds who are farming. In addition to the environmentally inclined friends I have from Middlebury College, my farming acquaintances include a childhood friend from a cramped San Francisco apartment who listens exclusively to hip hop. He now finds himself on a farm in Massachusetts doing the same kind of work as the folks in Benson.</p><p>As I add them up, I realize that I have friends who have farmed all over the country and in at least ten countries — including Chile and New Zealand.</p><p>When they share their stories, my friends are often clear about the flaws in the farming movement. Most of the produce they pick is expensive, and the current structure of the farming industry doesn’t make this model feasible on a large scale. </p><p>But, like me, they are committed to getting their hands dirty for this issue — on farms and politically. And we’re learning that participating in a movement means getting comfortable with playing a small role. </p><p>I’m also learning that being part of a movement means learning to be proud of what it's doing despite its occasional foolishness and predictability. </p><p>Although I haven’t worked on an organic farm, I sure do feel a pull in that direction.</p><p>If I do farm, I’ll remember to check up on regulations before I nark on any farmers — we’re proudly taking small steps for the future.</p>

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