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Mindful : April 2015
fa rmer is multitalented, able to fix and to innovate. “The outcome is creativity,” Algiere argues. “Farm- ing is very much an art form,” a deeply rewarding creative enterprise that brings into play a wide array of skills, talents, and knowledge to respond to the needs of the soil a nd the vaga ries of the weather to provide something essential to life. There’s also an interplay between solitude and community, stewardship and ser vice, he says, a nd it does require a kind of deep mindfulness a nd personal development to sur vive over the long haul. “All of these things come to the surface with young farmers. It takes so much self-discipline and efficiency. If you’re out of balance, you won’t last in this type of work.” For Lindsey Shute, there’s no greater rewa rd than being in the great big outdoors. In a farm job, you’re walking a round in the fresh air and sunshine, Shute says. “It’s a great alternative for people who love the outdoors, and many young people are seeing others out there farming and enjoying it. It has become a much more viable a nd exciting option.” A Forest of Apples Nevertheless, farming has always been a tough busi- ness, a nd still is. Specialization is one strategy that small farmers can take to be successful. For apple grower Eliza Greenman, the first step was to pay off her student loans, then to focus on an area of exper- tise. “ When I hear farmers talking about not being able to sell their lettuce, I think that ’s because there a re 20 other people selling the same kind of lettuce. The solution to me is to get your lettuce to stand out, or switch crops. Any business will go under if you’re selling the same product everybody else is selling, when the ma rket is saturated.” Greenman is a different kind of “farmer” than most you hear about. “I grow tree crops,” she says. “So my skill set is completely different from an annual or livestock farmer.” In college she studied → size farming will offer a decent living. And in the process, he says, people are “figuring out ways of revitalizing rural communities” that have withered as fa mily fa rm culture deteriorated a mid the rise of highly industrialized food production. Wolf, who g rew up in Connecticut, is dedicated to raising the knowledge and skill level of young and future farmers. The nonprofit education center at Stone Barns is housed on the 80-acre site of a dairy operation that was part of the original Rockefeller estate. More than 10,000 schoolchildren come there annually for outings and farm camps. Each year the initiative trains about a dozen apprentices selected from more than 200 who apply. They spend nine months learning how to grow vegetables in the fields and the greenhouses, and to tend livestock, including sheep, pigs, geese, chicken, and turkeys. They also get extensive business training—more than 65% of those who graduate now work on farms. The center is also a rallying point for the movement. It was at Stone Barns’ annual Young Farmers Conference that the National Young Farmers Coalition was launched. Wolf wa nts to see better opportunities for farmers to develop to the point that they can supply bigger markets, not just have a fa rmstand and supply a few restaurants. Creating distribution networks for sustainably grown food “must be part of the next step,” he says. “The sustainable ag movement is about how ag riculture fits into social ecology and people’s daily lives. What does it take to create a model that gives people the kind of agricultural sys- tem they want?” In Wolf ’s view, well-trained young farmers ca n help us rediscover what agriculture mea ns in our lives. The nice thing about intensive agriculture on a small scale, Wolf says, is that it can be done closer to urban centers, if the land is afford- able. “That way, we ca n incorporate ag riculture into people’s lives, connect to the community.” This connection is critical, he believes, because people need to see the link between ca ring for them- selves and for the environment. “ Instead of poisoning insects, we’re providing habitat, instead of polluting the water, we’re cleaning it. There’s no boundar y between us and the ecosystem. We must care.” Every day, people working on the farm real- ize this, Wolf says. “There’s something innate in agriculture that’s in all of us, and when people get to the meadow or the hayfield, they feel it. I see this as transformative—people will see the environment inside them. For me that’s what stewardship means.” It’s not simply about protecting the ecosystem or the earth. “It’s about seeing one’s complete connection to the earth and to each other. We are not separate.” But isn’t fa rming just back-breaking tedious work? Not according to Algiere, who was raised on a homestead in Rhode Isla nd a nd has been farming for 20 years. His crew of 20 at Stone Barns produced more than 200 varieties of vegetables and more than 70 varieties of flowers a nd herbs in 2013. A good In Zach Wolf’s view, well-trained young farmers bringing small-scale intensive agriculture closer to cities can help us rediscover the link between our lives and the environment. April 2015 mindful 49 mindful food revolution