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August 2nd, 2011

Why Are Young, Educated Americans Going Back To The Farm?

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by Nelson Harvey—
I am a 25-year-old college graduate with a degree from a fairly prestigious eastern university, and I pull weeds for a living. At first blush, you might think I’m overqualified, and after four hours of weeding the squash beds, when the stiffness begins to set in, that’s what I start to believe, too. In fact, nothing in college prepared me for this. My only credentials are the past two summers, spent learning by doing: planting, thinning, trellising, fertilizing, tilling, harvesting, washing, packing and, of course, weeding.

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I am a farm intern, and to me, the only thing more remarkable than the fact that I have spent much of the past three summers happily stooping over vegetable rows (I am 6’4’’) is that I am not alone. Across the country, college students and graduates like myself, many with little or no farming background, have been flocking to small farms in droves, shacking up in old farmhouses, trailers and tents, and working for free or for peanuts, all in exchange for a little instruction in the fine art of running a farm.

“It’s almost like a third education after college,” said Kelly Coffman, 30, a second-year apprentice at Rain Crow Farm in Paonia, CO. Coffman studied at Prescott College in Arizona and Naropa University in Boulder, CO, and worked in the California state park system and as a kindergarten teacher, before deciding to work on farms. “When you have [a liberal arts] education, you get to a point where you realize wait, I need to have a more basic fundamental education about being human. Food, water, shelter…these things are important,” she said.

Although their numbers are hard to pin down, odds are that if you’re reading this, you probably know someone who has followed such a path. John English, website manager for the National Agriculture Information Service farm internship bulletin board, a job clearinghouse, said through a spokesperson that postings there have jumped by around 500 per year for the last 5 years, as more small farms spring up and seek the cheap and eager labor that interns provide.  “If you talk to any really good farmer they’ll tell you that they’ve had a doubling and tripling of their applicant pool over the last few years,” said Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, an upstate New York farmer, activist and the director of the new film The Greenhorns, which profiles young farmers across the country and explores their motivations. In 2009, Fleming helped found the National Young Farmers Coalition, an advocacy group for those whose taste of farm life has enticed them to take up farming as a profession.

Farming is relentless: it saddles you with endless chores, pins you in one place, and works you to the bone. For much of the 20th century, most Americans tried to escape such a life by fleeing to the city, all of which begs the obvious question: Why would we want to go back to the farm?

Read the rest of the article at turnstylenews.com.


Nelson Harvey is a print and radio journalist whose reporting on environmental and political issues has been published in a wide range of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including The American Prospect, Alternet, Greenopia.com, The Wild Green Yonder, the Heritage Radio Network, and Farmstory.org. He currently lives in northern Vermont.

Used by permission from the author.

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August 1st, 2011

Carbon Nation: Organic Farming Sequesters CO2

peterbyckby Peter Byck—
Early on in the filming of Carbon Nation, we were given the compelling hint that organic farming may actually be a huge asset in the sucking down of atmospheric CO2.  This was excellent news, since we were of the mind that there is too much CO2 up there already (387 parts per million when we finished the movie) when compared to the amount that held steady for the past 10,000 years (280 ppm), the period that saw most if not all of human achievement. Our associate producer, Jim Slama, insisted we get in touch with the Rodale Institute, that they would have the data. So my pregnant wife/Carbon Nation producer, Chrisna, and I headed out to the countryside near Kutztown, Pennsylvania, with a pit stop at Premise Maid (sweet tooth disclaimer) and discovered Rodale’s 70-year-old side-by-side testing plots comparing organic and chemical (not “conventional”) farming.  I think organic is more “conventional” than chemical farming.

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Besides making the soil more robust and allowing it to retain water in drought and absorb water in flood (two things global weirding has in store), and in addition to greatly reducing soil erosion and creating healthy food, organic farming does indeed sequester huge amounts of carbon. How huge? We were told at Rodale that it was up to 3,000 pounds of carbon per acre per year when using manure as compost and legumes as winter cover crops.

An interesting thing was happening when we were at Rodale: Some organic farmers were interested that organics sequestered carbon, and some simply were not. Because of this, not every farmer we asked to interview said yes. We were thrilled, then, when Kore Yoder agreed. He had started organic farming when he realized that his young children couldn’t play in the freshly planted chemically farmed fields of corn—that he had to wear hazmat clothing while planting. Climate change was not on his radar. Healthy food and clean fields for his family were paramount.

I asked Yoder if his organic corn had the same yields as his neighbors’ chemical corn. He said that in normal years, his yield was a bit lower, but in years of drought and years of flood, when his neighbors’ crops were ruined, he had yields consistent with normal-weather years.

From where we, the Carbon Nation team, stand, organic farming offers cascading benefits of clean fields, clean groundwater, healthy food, robust soils, and a powerful solution to removing all that extra CO2 from the air and storing in the ground, in the soil, where it belongs. We hope to make this story heard by many, many people.

The Carbon Nation DVD goes on sale August 1, 2011, at carbonnationmovie.com. It will also be available in On Demand and streaming, and in retail stores like Walmart across the United States and Canada—please visit carbonnationmovie.com for more details.


Peter Byck has over 20 years experience as a director and editor. His first documentary Garbage won the South by Southwest Film Festival. In 1986, Peter received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from California Institute of the Arts. Peter has become a sought after speaker on the subject of climate change solutions and sustainability issues since making “carbon nation,” and  has been invited to speak at Boeing, Disney, Microsoft, Walmart, SC Johnson, Stonyfield, Wall Street Journal, Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, Producers’ Guild of America, NetImpact, AREDAY, Yale, Duke, Stanford & Cambridge.

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