Hey Mom, I Want to Farm

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Photo by Anastatia Curley

College graduations are wrapping up this week. There is no doubt that these graduates are heading into the worst economy of my lifetime, their lifetimes, and their parents' lifetimes.

Swarms of these seniors came through my office hours this spring, and a wild number of Yale graduates are ready to commit their lives to sustainable food and agriculture. (College career services, get ready!) Kim Severson just wrote a beautiful piece in the New York Times about students interning on farms over summers. The Class of 2009 is dedicating their lives to the field.

Many of these students want to write farm policy. Others want to teach at college farms or in school gardens. A handful will own farms of their own. I fielded my first request ever from a Yalie who wants to apprentice himself to a butcher (we sent him on to talk to arguably the world's most famous butcher, Dario Cecchini, whom Faith Willinger wrote about so beautifully).

Parents, we've got to get you ready for this: this may be the first moment in modern history when it is more foolhardy to be an investment banker than a farmer.

Ben Bosker, a Yale senior flirting with plans to farm in Israel or work at an NGO in India showed up at my office hours recently. We talked over the options in a lengthy conversation.

I could see him hemming and hawing throughout our talk. Finally, the real question came out. Ben's mom is fretting: what the heck is her son doing farming? Wasn't there some way for him to have more of an impact on the world?

Parents, we've got to get you ready for this: this may be the first moment in modern history when it is more foolhardy to be an investment banker than a farmer.

The nation needs smart, savvy farmers. The sustainable food and agriculture movement is growing by leaps and bounds, and this is the time to get in on the ground floor. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will need great staffers to write the next Farm Bill. First Lady Michelle Obama will need scores of teachers and gardeners to support her vision of gardens as educational spaces. As a nation we need smart entrepreneurs to build local food systems.

So, to students, I say: Go, farm! Work for Dario! Bake bread! If you happen to fall in love with the life of the farmer, the butcher, or the baker, keep at it and throw everything you've got into it. If not, never fear. You will be able to bring the lessons you've learned to another workplace, to the government, and to your community.

To parents, I say: Your kids are awesome. I've seen them in action and they're going to be okay. My dad is able to provide counseling to those of you who don't buy it. He may moan and groan about the tuition dollars spent on a daughter determined to farm. But I know he's proud when he sees how excited I am about this revolution we're building, and I bet he'd say I've turned out okay.

To learn about one young woman's decision to leave her office job to work on an organic farm, click here.

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Melina Shannon-DiPietro is the director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, which oversees sustainable dining at Yale, manages an organic farm on campus, and runs programs that support academic inquiry related to food and agriculture. More

Melina Shannon-DiPietro is an organic farmer turned executive director. In 2003 she traded in her stirrup hoe for a laptop and joined Yale to help found the Sustainable Food Project. For the past seven years, she has worked with colleagues, faculty, and students to create meaningful opportunities for college students in food, agriculture, and sustainability. Her biggest compliment came last year, when a student called her Yale's Dean of Food.
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