New Focus on Sustainable Agriculture

Summer traditionally brings thoughts of road trips and "get-away" vacations, but this Memorial Day people seemed to welcome the season with a new focus. If recent news is any indicator, the growing craze this summer favors getting back to the land over getting out of town.

The New York Times ran two articles over the weekend that touched on this shift. Kim Severson's piece on organic farm internships discusses what she calls a "new wave of liberal arts students" flocking to farms instead of cubicles during their college breaks. The new interns, many of whom have never before set foot on a farm, learn about the ills of the global food market in college classrooms and yearn to put their new agricultural ideals to practice.

Tom Philpott's recent post on Grist calls industrial corn and soy "massive contributors to climate change." Greenhouse gas-emitting nitrogen fertilizers, deforestation and soil depletion are just a few of the consequences of large-scale agriculture. As the virtues of localizing food production become more mainstream, interested students across the country are approaching small farms for learning opportunities. A quick google search for "farm internships" yields over 600,000 hits. (Of course discerning students must refine that search, but the sheer number proves sustainable agriculture is a hot topic!) One trusted source is WWOOF, or World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF provides international listings of farms accepting interns.

Another story in the New York Times this weekend, a Sunday magazine piece by Matthew B. Crawford, extols the virtues of working with one's hands. According to Crawford, many of society's ills are exacerbated by a sit-down corporate culture. Although Grist's Tom Philpott estimates less than 3 percent of food consumed in the United States comes from a local food source, the recent upsurge in young people's interest could help raise that meager percentage, as well as improve the mainstream view of sustainable agriculture.

Last week Dr. Rajendra Pachauri (see my post on May 21st) said eating less meat is one easy way people can help mitigate climate change. With the head of the IPCC on board, the new generation of sustainable farmers can look forward to long-awaited attention from the media and policy makers.