Even at my most exhausted (and scratched up and dirt-stained and bruised and sore), I haven’t lost my sense of clarity about why I’ve chosen to work on a small family farm this summer.
I dedicated this year of my life to learning about food production and sustainable land management because I believe that these practices are not only at the heart of who we are as humans, our common roots as a species and the starting point of various cultural values, they’re also the practices that will be most vital to humanity’s survival going forward.
In my lifetime, we’ll be forced to cope with an ongoing population explosion, climate change, political unrest in democracies and dictatorships alike, and economic shifts toward automation and globalization. The growth and distribution of food is at the intersection of these massive challenges. Food will be key to every individual’s well-being, and every community’s justice and peace.
Most Americans have grown complacent about food. Unlike our agrarian ancestors or the current lives of subsistence farmers around the world, we’ve had the luxury of taking food for granted while we go about our busy lives. Organic and locavore movements are a start, but they’re still largely upscale trends, not serious plans to ensure everyone has uninterrupted, affordable access to healthy sustenance as society evolves in the long term. I’m very much a part of this: moderately informed, self-congratulatory about buying greens at the farmer’s market when it’s convenient, and otherwise content to live off of cheaper conventional products despite the fact that I know their ingredients are grown in unsustainable conditions half a continent or more away.
For years I’ve taken an interest, on and off, in pursuing a more environmentally friendly and socially ethical lifestyle for myself. I say I want to help the planet and the population, but rarely go beyond signing a petition, attending a rally, paying a few extra dollars for the organic version of vegetables, and turning off lights when I leave a room. What actual impact am I having? It’s not nearly enough.
I want to do more. I want to be as knowledgeable and as skilled as possible, to proactively prepare for the global challenges ahead, even on the tiny scale of one person’s worth of knowledge and skill. It’s not much. Yet. But it’s a step in the right direction, one toward eventual problem-solving and even leadership on a larger scale, and who knows how far it will lead.