Posted on: January 4, 2010 9:00 AM, by Sharon Astyk
What kind of radical cultural transformation would we have to have to allow middle class parents to say “I hope you grow up to be a farmer.” Or “Honey, why don’t you take some agriculture classes along with calc and physics?” Or “Honey, have you considered a cow college? Cows are great!” What would it take to make agriculture a profession of status? Eric and I are going to explore this question in one of the next posts in this series, talking about how we might begin integrating agricuture and systems science together for kids and college students.
When one out of three or two of every American kids was farmer, you could count on a large number of bright young people to grow up and become farmers. Even after the population began to decline, we benefitted from the fact that, as the expression goes, “The American public is lucky that farming is a disease not a job.” That is, despite every pressure to send out anyone bright and thoughtful, some of the best and brightest still stayed at it. It is a testament to the power of agriculture.
But the truth is that rural areas can’t bear the brain drain forever, and that we need thoughtful, well educated, creative people in agriculture *DESPERATELY* because as Greenpa put it in the comments to a previous post, we’re inventing a viable agriculture. That is, we’ve never before had to deal with the fact that there are no new frontiers, there’s no land we can afford to abandon, there’s no new place to go to avoid the consequences of fouling our land and wasting our resources. We need people who can create a sustainable – not in the superficial sense of the word, but really, truly sustainable – that is, can go on forever – agriculture. And that will take the best minds we have, and every kind of human intelligence, wisdom and thoughtfulness. And we need it soon.
For low income urban kids, even in the garden, the problem will be access to land, and also, access to a world of nature that expands beyond the highly structured nature of very small garden plots. That is, farming isn’t just learning to grow food, or learning to raise animals – it is learning to manage a space that is both wild and tame, and to have them exist simultaneously. A good farm pasture should support nearly as much wildlife as a comparable forest. A farm woodlot should support even more. A community garden plot or a public park offer little chance to teach kids to know and trust and understand the wild. We need a generation of people who have ties to such spaces – as I’ve written about before, establishing urban-rural ties may be our most central project.
We are facing a problem that literally has never been faced in human history – we don’t have enough people who know how to feed us to keep going foward. And for the most part, we’re not even fully aware of the problem. We have no plan going forward. And our children are being taught that farming is unworthy of them. This, folks, is a crisis.